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Champions League - Cluj Home 9th December 2008 - 2-1


Alan

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Return of the Drog Secures Chelsea’s Progress

By Alan McGuinness

A 70th minute strike from Didier Drogba was enough to send Chelsea through to the knockout stages of the Champions League in a nervy encounter against CFR Cluj.

Salomon Kalou eased the home crowd’s nerves before half time when he lashed the ball in from a Deco free kick.

But Kone headed Cluj level after a very well worked move to leave Chelsea sweating. However, Drogba’s poked effort found its way in to hand Chelsea victory.

Drogba was initially left on the bench by Luiz Felipe Scolari as the Portuguese opted to stick with Nicolas Anelka as a lone striker.

Joe Cole returned to the starting line up after injury, with Florent Malouda missing out.

The Blues knew that a win would ease the nerves of those inside Stamford Bridge, but it was Cluj who had the first effort on target.

Petr Cech had to be alert to palm away Alvaro Pereira’s shot in the 6th minute.

Alex then went close with a header for Chelsea from a free kick from Deco.

Cluj could have taken a shock lead just past the 15 minute mark, but Mikel was alert enough to head away Hugo Alcantara’s knockdown with Cadu lurking with intent.

Nicolas Anelka aimed to establish a lead for the home side, but his shot was off-target.

Kalou also had a shot deflected over, before he made amends and put Chelsea ahead.

Deco whipped a free kick into the box and the ball broke to the Ivorian, who smacked the ball into the net to calm the nerves of the Chelsea faithful.

That was to be the last significant action of the first half, and Chelsea emerged after the break aiming to put the game beyond doubt.

Joe Cole and Anelka both had shots on goal, but it was to be Cluj who grabbed the next goal, silencing Stamford Bridge in the process.

The ball was cleverly worked to Panin, who played a wicked ball into the box which was met by Kone, who steered his header into the top corner, leaving Petr Cech stranded.

Stamford Bridge was silenced, knowing that there was a real possibility that Chelsea could fail to qualify for the knockout phases of the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Another Cluj goal - combined with Bordeaux taking the lead in Rome - would leave Chelsea staring over the edge of the precipice.

Cole could have eased those nerves instantly, but he found himself frustrated by the heroics of Nuno Claro.

Scolari then sent on Drogba in an attempt to regain control of the game, and his gamble paid off handsomely, as it was Drogba who put the home side back in front with 20 minutes left on the clock.

John Obi Mikel chipped the ball to Cole, who in turn knocked the ball into the path of Drogba. The striker took a touch before poking the ball past Claro and into the back of the net.

Relief seemed to be the prevailing emotion around the ground and the goal seemed to kill the game as a contest, with Cluj lacking the fight they had shown earlier on in the match.

Further daylight could have been established by Chelsea, but Ballack and Beletti’s efforts were kept out.

Scolari will know that his side will have to improve, but after last night he will just be happy to be in the pot for the next phase.

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