x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Clout of Africa decisive for Chelsea

Reduced to 10 men when securing a place in the quarter-finals still needed two goals from them, Juventus fell short against Chelsea in Turin on Tuesday.

Didier Drogba celebrates scoring Chelsea's second goal against Juventus.
Didier Drogba celebrates scoring Chelsea's second goal against Juventus.

TURIN // Reduced to 10 men when securing a place in the quarter-finals still needed two goals from them, Juventus fell short against Chelsea in Turin on Tuesday. In a tie that finished 3-2, and Juve never holding an overall advantage, the correct team progressed. But until Didier Drogba's second goal at the Stadio Olimpico, 173 minutes into the contest, there was knife-edged suspense.

The Juve head coach, Claudio Ranieri, hoped the least his club should take from their return to European football after a two-year absence would be a recognition they belong among the heavyweights. They have that. Chelsea have their powerful West Africans to thank. Drogba, the Ivorian whose goal had been responsible for the 1-0 win in London, turned in a Juliano Belletti cross to make it 2-2 in Italy.

The Ghanaian Michael Essien, making his first start for Chelsea since the summer, had bundled in their first goal after Frank Lampard struck the crossbar. In as far as the selection of Essien after such a long absence seemed a gamble, Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink looked like a wizard for making the choice. "I was happy for him. There was no way he could play the full 90 minutes but he made an important contribution," said Hiddink, still unbeaten as Chelsea's caretaker boss. Hiddink's most anxious moments followed a bright start by Juve, interrupted only when Pavel Nedved withdrew injured after a quarter of an hour. Vicenzo Iaquinta's opening goal was beautifully made, the Italian striker played behind the Chelsea back line by a delicate volley from David Trezeguet.

It looked like the swift, carefully calibrated routine of two strikers who knew each other inside out. In fact, Trezeguet and Iaquinta have hardly partnered one another all season, because of injuries and the form of Amauri. Drogba thought he had equalised before Essien did, goal- keeper Gianluigi Buffon smuggling the ball out from what looked like a position behind the goal-line when Drogba shot it low just inside the keeper's left-hand post. The referee's assistant ruled no goal, as a frowning Hiddink sought out a touchline cameraman to try to see a replay. Had Essien not scored just before the interval, Chelsea would be fuming still about the controversy.

With Juventus needing two more home goals, Del Piero, with a coolly struck penalty made it 2-1 in the second-half but Giorgio Chiellini's red card then made the prospect of 3-1 even more remote. Chelsea, Ranieri's former employers, march on to what has become a regular berth in the quarter-finals, hopeful chiefly that the opposition who await them there will not be their regular Champions League opponents and often their nemeses in Europe, Liverpool.

But with Drogba firing and Essien revving up, Hiddink has grounds for optimism. ihawkey@thenational.ae