Chelsea's bravery is not quite enough

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3

Real Zaragoza 1

(Zaragoza win 4-3 on agg)

They had the spirit and the effort required and again they had intense vocal encouragement. Chelsea even had goals to show as they made their exit from Europe thought not enough of them on the night. By virtue of a magnificent first-leg performance it is Real Zaragoza who will face Arsenal in the Cup-Winners' Cup final.

It was still some achievement to score three times. Chelsea had managed the feat only once before in 38 games but in the end, as they had feared, it was the away goal the Spanish club always looked capable of claiming, that made all the endeavour Chelsea poured into the final 35 minutes largely irrelevant.

Glenn Hoddle, who had thrown himself into the fray for the last half hour, looked thoroughly dejected as he trudged off at the finish. Later he revealed that this would be his last season as a player. "That could be my final game so I was glad to get on," he said.

With Hoddle on and greatly involved, Chelsea scored twice to give themselves a convincing victory over the 90 minutes yet still two short of what was needed once Santiago Aragon had threaded his way through a packed penalty area to guide a low shot past Kevin Hitchcock.

It ensured that after two defeats at this stage of the competition it was to be a case of third time lucky for Zaragoza. Before last night Hoddle had also endured two defeats in Europe at this last step before the final. This was a hat-trick he did not want but he insisted afterwards that disappointment should not be the overriding emotion.

"To get to the semi-final with the injuries we have had and our experience was something this club should be proud of," he said. "It's a bit frustrating to get the three goals and then not take them to extra time. With any luck we could have got the five we needed."

The Zaragoza coach, Victor Fernandez, said after his taxing evening: "We suffered to reach the final. Chelsea never gave up. It will be interesting to play Arsenal because they are the holders. English sides are very difficult when they play away from home."

Zaragoza's scorer, Aragon, said: "We knew we were going to have a tough time here. But we thought that with the equaliser they were going to drop their rhythm. But we allowed them to come back and they almost made us pay for it.

"Arsenal go into the final as favourites and that means less pressure for us."

Aragon said he preferred to meet Arsenal in the final because: "In a single match Italian teams are more dangerous." The away goal that was the killer blow threatened to arrive a lot earlier than it did. Chelsea revealed an early vulnerability to balls played accurately over the top. Erland Johnson just shep-herded the fleet-footed Miguel ardez away from danger and Francisco Higuera was close to forcing home the opportunity when he showed an immaculate touch to bring a lofted ball under control.

After that Chelsea began to pin their visitors back on their heels. Through sheer effort of will and a hunger for the challenge they began to create chances. Paul Furlong, a gallant battler from first to last was denied by a spectacular reflex save from Zaragoza's goalkeeper Juanmi who, with his eagerness to deal with anything delivered in high, was offering Chelsea little encouragement.

He was beaten, cruelly, however in the 31st minute when he went to clear a back pass and sent the ball straight at Furlong, the ball rebounding with some force into the net.

John Spencer, Chelsea's leading scorer, was introduced at the interval to add his speed and skill to the attack but the London club's strategy all came apart when, in the 55th minute, Zaragoza scored and Chelsea hearts sank.

Frank Sinclair quickly restored their advantage with a simple header from a corner and with chances appearing with a frenzied rapidity at either end, it was clear there were more goals to come. Just one, however, materialised - from Mark Stein three minutes from time after Furlong had set him up for a simple finish.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Hitchcock; Clarke, Johnsen (Hoodle, 61), Sinclair, Minto; Rocastle (Spencer, h-t), Spackman, Lee, Peacock; Stein, Furlong.

Real Zaragoza (4-3-2-1): Juanmi; Belsue, Caceres, Solana, De Moraes; Aragon, Luis, Nayim; Pardeza, Higuera (De Juana, 64); Esnaider (Roderiguez, 64).

Referee: J Coroada (Portugal).

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