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Chelsea 2-1 Cluj


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Chelsea F.C. 2 - 1 CFR Cluj-Napoca

December 10 2008, UEFA Champions League, Group Stage, Stamford Bridge, West London


Didier Drogba came off the bench to net a stunning winner as Chelsea progressed to the knock-out rounds of the Champions League.

The Blues made hard work of the Romanian champions, and the early moments of the game suggested the match would be just as tight as the 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture on match day two of the Champions League season. However, the home side made a deserved breakthrough when Ivorian forward Salomon Kalou netted from close range, but then proceeded to waste a number of chances that would have put the game beyond the visitors. On 55 minutes, Cluj striker Kone headed home a shock equaliser that stunned Stamford Bridge, but tremendous vocal support from the Chelsea faithful - coupled with the introduction of Drogba as a second half substitute - saw the much-maligned centre-forward score a fabulous winning goal.

The victory means that Chelsea qualify for the next stage of the competition, but AS Roma's 2-0 win over Bordeaux meant the Italian team secured first place in Group A - as a result of this, the Blues will face a potentially trickier tie, with the second leg away from home. Despite this, Luiz Felipe Scolari was pleased with the result, and stated he does not mind who his team face in the Round of 16, saying that every team 'is the best' and would prove to be a tough opponent.

Chelsea started with just one change to the team that beat Bolton 2-0 at the weekend, with suspended Frank Lampard replaced by a fit-again Joe Cole. Deco, who played wide left at the Reebok, was drafted into Lampard's position, and Cole and Kalou operated on the wings for the home team. Juliano Belletti had recovered from the injury that had seen him out of action since the Carling Cup defeat to Burnley, and was on the bench.

The opening exchanges belonged to Chelsea, but chances went begging at both ends within the opening minutes. Cluj full-back Pereira had a decent effort from the edge of Petr Cech's area that the big goalkeeper did well to parry away, even though replays highlighted that the ball may have been going wide of the Czech's left upright, before Alex headed off-target from a Deco free kick. It was a decent chance for the Brazilian, but under pressure, his header bounced over the target.

Anelka was next to be presented with a chance following Kalou's sparkling run, but the Frenchman was denied by a last-ditch block by one of the Cluj defenders - the away team were demonstrating that whilst it was impossible for them to progress, that they were not willing of simply allowing the Blues simple passage to the next round.

Ballack laid-off Joe Cole on 35 minutes, but following superb control, the winger could only stab his effort a couple of feet wide after the Shed End had rose in expectancy. Cole was visibly angry with himself, and it certainly was a decent opportunity for the England man from the edge of the area. Kalou blazed over moments later, before Mikel lashed a shot well over, before the breakthrough came.

John Terry caused mayhem in the penalty area, giving Kalou the space required to bring the ball home and lash it into the back of the net. The Ivorian celebrated his first goal in ten matches in jovial fashion, as Stamford Bridge acknowledged the importance of the opening goal - a massive sigh of relief could be heard just as much as roars of jubilation from the home crowd.

Joe Cole shot straight at goalkeeper Nuno Claro in the first attack of the second half, as Chelsea got into their stride. The imperious pairing of Mikel and Ballack was successfully snuffing out Cluj attacks, whilst both wingers were acting as attacking outlets for the home team. However, the Blues couldn't possibly progress without making it difficult for themselves, could they?

Yssouf Kone emphatically provided the answer with a simply stunning header into the top corner. Panin did brilliantly to beat Bosingwa with the initial touch, before some brilliant trickery left John Terry for dead - the simplest of crosses to the former Rosenborg man allowed the striker space to manoeuvre a header beyond Petr Cech. The simplicity of the goal was excellent in itself, but the headed effort was one to be admired. Cluj were level, and to their credit, continued to attack.

Claro then made a good save to deny Joe Cole, moments after denying Nicolas Anelka with some excellent goalkeeping - the shot stopper sliding out to steal the ball from the Frenchman's feet. Drogba came on for Kalou on 64 minutes, and by the team the clocks were indicated that five minutes had passed since his introduction, the striker was on the score sheet.

To say that the goal was ridiculously sublime would be somewhat of an understatement. Whilst you can sit back and admire volleyed efforts from 30 yards, storming diving headers at the back post, and trademark rocket free kicks, the genius of Joe Cole's vision and creativity, the brilliance of Drogba's touch and the lethality of his finish was something truly special.

Running into space, Cole saw his teammate in space, and a clever lobbed pass right into his path gave him the opportunity to finish without breaking strider, and Drogba did not disappoint; taking the ball down beautifully with his right boot before hammering it beyond Nuno Claro. Whilst he may only have found the net twice this season, Drogba would have to go back many a game to find a goal of his that matched the quality of this one.

Belletti soon came on, and to the cries of 'Shoot!' from the Matthew Harding End, he forced a decent save out of Nuno Claro as the Brazilian returned from a spell on the sidelines. Ballack rocketed a shot towards goal from fully thirty yards that forced a solid parry from the goalkeeper, before Bosingwa's devilish cross was cleared from the danger zone by Pereira.

Chelsea held out, despite a decent chance for Cluj with minutes remaining after Deco had upended Dani, but Muresan fired over and the Blues were through. Just.

Chelsea: Cech, Ashley Cole, Terry, Alex, Bosingwa, Kalou (Drogba), Deco, Mikel (Bridge), Ballack, Joe Cole (Belletti), Anelka

CFR Cluj-Napoca: Nuno Claro, Pereira, Hugo Alcantara, Cadu, Panin, Muresan, Dani, Culio, Trica (Peralta), Dubarbier (Emmanuel Kone), Yssouf Kone

Attendance: 41,060

Star Man

Michael Ballack


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