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AC Milan 1-2 Chelsea


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AC Milan 1-2 Chelsea F.C.

Saturday 25th July 2009, World Football Challenge, the M&T Bank Stadium, Maryland

Didier Drogba celebrates following his stunning opening goal in Baltimore.

A debut strike from Russian winger Yuri Zhirkov sealed a victory for Chelsea in an entertaining affair with Italian giants AC Milan.

The Russian wide player pounced on a loose ball and drilled home an emphatic left-footed strike that beat Milan goalkeeper Zejlko Kalac, after the veteran shotstopper had denied Andrei Shevchenko a much-desired goal against his former club. Frank Lampard's subsequent follow-up was blocked by a Milan defender, but the debutant made no mistake from twenty yards; lashing the ball beyond the helpless goalkeeper.

Milan had equalised with a spectacular goal through Clarence Seedorf after Ronaldinho had held off John Mikel Obi on the edge of the penalty area, following Didier Drogba's incredible 30-yard pile-driver that arrowed into the top corner of Kalac's goal with just six minutes on the clock. In short, it was a deserved victory for the English side, with the FA Cup holders dominating much of the play. Midfielder Mikel was in imperious form alongside the industrious Zhirkov, who impressed many in his first outing in a Chelsea jersey.

Though Milan hit the woodwork on a number of occasions, head coach Carlo Ancelotti was quick to praise his team's ethic, and credited the win to a "very good performance" in the first 45 minutes especially. Chelsea have now won all three of their games on tour with America, and avoiding defeat against Mexican outfit Club America would see the Blues lift the World Football Challenge trophy - no mean feat considering the quality of the opposition.

Branislav Ivanovic retained his place in the side ahead of both Alex da Costa and Ricardo Carvalho, and José Bosingwa returned to the starting line-up after not featuring at all in the previous game against Internazionale. Juliano Belletti started on the right of a midfield diamond that consisted of Mikel, Frank Lampard and Zhirkov on the opposite flank. Nicolas Anelka partnered Drogba, with the Frenchman playing just off the talismanic Chelsea forward. Petr Cech was once again between the sticks; donning his trademark orange outfit. The outfield players lined up wearing the smart new adidas away kit for the coming season, and it was given a winning debut in front of 71,000 fans in Baltimore.

Milan themselves were at full strength, with alleged Chelsea target Alex Pato leading the Italian attack. Ronaldinho - the former World Player of the Year - also featured in a midfield that boasted the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf. Alessandro Nesta also made his first start following his comeback from injury; a welcomed sight for the Rossoneri.

Chelsea made a lightning-quick start to proceedings, and it was Brazilian midfielder Juliano Belletti who drew the first save of the match inside just two minutes. With a couple of yards of space before him, the Chelsea number 35 drew a decent save out of Kalac, who was in goal 12 months previous when Chelsea put five goals past him in a dazzling display - but the Blues were little short of prolific against manager Ancelotti's former side, and could have taken a deserved early lead when Drogba's flicked header whistled wide of the far post.

But the Ivorian was not to be denied an early strike, and as he had done against José Mourinho's Internazionale, it was the Chelsea number 11 who opened the scoring with a delicious effort into the top corner of Kalac's net. With no Milan player closing him down, the powerful African striker launched a bullet-like effort from 30 yards that no goalkeeper would have saved. Drogba wheeled away and celebrated with his team-mates as if he had just netted the winner in the Champions League final - and people question his commitment to the cause?

Milan did respond almost immediately, however, and it was Brazil's Pato that called the alert Ashley Cole into early action; the England defender being well-placed to block a headed effort by the young forward. Ivanovic excelled at the heart of defence, forming a formidable barrier against wave after wave of Milan pressure. When the Serbian defender was finally beaten by a Pirlo drive, the Italian saw his effort denied by one of Petr Cech's long legs, and a Ronaldinho over-head kick moments later was blocked by a team-mate. Chelsea were continuing to press forward, and through Mikel, began to exert their authority on the game with a disciplined defensive performance - Milan were being forced to take shots from distance.

Zhirkov also began to influence the match as the half drew towards its midway point, and found himself in some key positions out wide for the Blues. One attacking move saw the Russian combine well with Mikel and Lampard, but when in a good position to strike, the former CSKA Moscow player was ignored by Lampard and the move broke down. Lampard himself was not at his creative best, although that was down largely to the work of Mathieu Flamini, who was marshalling the Chelsea vice-captain excellently.

Milan came close to equalising following some good work down the right by Pirlo, and Seedorf also embarrassed Cech with a delicate chipped shot that bounced off the crossbar. With his next effort, however, the Dutchman would not be denied, as he elegantly arrowed the ball beyond Cech from just outside the area following strong play by Ronaldinho. The Milan midfielder received a well-weighted lay off by the Brazilian frontman, and lashed it beyond Cech with delightful accuracy. On the balance of play, Milan deserved to be on level terms, but it was Chelsea who were enjoying the better of the attacking play, with Zhirkov and Lampard almost instantly having shots blocked inside the Milan penalty area. José Bosingwa then shot over as the half-time whistle was sounded - an entertaining first half had ended honours even.

Nesta did brilliantly after the restart to block Lampard from turning home a Bosingwa cross, and Seedorf and the influential Ronaldinho combined to see the latter volley over Cech's goal frame. Anelka had earlier cut inside Nesta and poked an effort wide, but it was a break-neck start to the second period, with both sides offering some delightful, classy attacking play.

Ronaldinho rattled the crossbar after Ivanovic had brought down the advancing Pato, and the Brazilian's shot was denied only by the woodwork with Cech scrambling. It was an effort deserving of a goal from the former Barcelona man, but Chelsea regained their composure and went dangerously close themselves to taking the lead when Zhirkov proved himself capable of attacking set-pieces with a well-timed header from Lampard's delivery. Thiago Silva cleared the ball off the line, but Chelsea were not to be denied a deserved second goal.

Andrei Shevchenko was brought on to rapturous applause and had two chances almost instantaneously, the first being somewhat fluffed before finding the gloves of Kalac with a drilled second effort after crafting some space for himself. The rebound fell to Lampard, who had his effort blocked by the head of Nesta, but Yuri Zhirkov's follow-up was perfectly placed, beating the stubborn Milan defence as well as their goalkeeper's outstretched glove.

The remainder of the half saw Chelsea largely defending their lead, with Mikel excelling in the middle of the park. Following a host of substitutions by both managers, the pace of the game faltered a little, but an entertaining affair between the two sides could have gone either way, and it took a fine save from Cech to preserve the side's lead after a brilliant heading by Inzaghi, who had replaced Pato earlier on. Chelsea hung on to claim their third straight win on tour, and should they avoid defeat against Club America, they will be crowned winners of the World Football Challenge 2009.


The TalkChelsea.net Star Man award goes to...


12. John Mikel Obi, Chelsea F.C.

AC Milan (4-1-2-1-2): Kalac; Oddo, Nesta (Onyewu), Thiago (Kaladze), Zambrotta (Jankulovski); Pirlo (Gattuso); Flamini, Seedorf (Abate 63); Ronaldinho (Di Gennaro); Boriello (Zigoni), Pato (Inzaghi)

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech, Bosingwa (Hutchinson), Ivanovic, Terry ©, A Cole; Mikel; Zhirkov (Mancienne), Belletti; Lampard; Anelka (Shevchenko), Drogba (Pizarro)

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