Football: Chelsea earn chance in the big time

Skonto Riga 0 Chelsea 0 Chelsea win 3-0 on aggregate
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The Independent Online
A HIGHLY professional performance from Chelsea earned them a lucrative passport into the group stages of the Champions' League for the first time in their history.

Gianluca Vialli's side calmly protected their 3-0 advantage from the first leg at Stamford Bridge and rarely gave Skonto the chance to threaten their goal. They dominating possession from the start and a handful of chances went begging as they tried to increase their lead.

The Chelsea manager immediately predicted that his side could be the surprise force in the later rounds. "We are not one of the favourites but I think we have a good chance to do well," he said. "It's great for the club, the players and the fans.

"The players behaved in a very professional way. They played good football for 60 minutes and no one got booked. Skonto Riga didn't create too many chances and we had a few a opportunities to score ourselves so I'm very pleased."

In today's draw, Chelsea will be pitted against one of the eight top- seeded teams such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan or Bayern Munich.

Last night's match took place in the inauspicious surroundings of the tiny ground of the Latvian champions. With spectators on one side of the pitch only in the single stand, the atmosphere resembled more of a pre- season friendly than what it actually was - a chance for Chelsea to set up a string of glamorous ties against the elite of European football.

Then again, Chelsea have learned to cope with playing at smaller grounds in the far-flung outposts of Europe in their Cup-Winners' Cup campaigns over the past two seasons. They had a commanding lead from the first leg and were determined to protect it with solid, no-frills football.

With Franck Leboeuf, Chris Sutton and Gianfranco Zola rested, Mikael Forssell was paired with Tore Andre Flo and the young Finnish international was eager to impress as he darted around up front.

Flo had the first real chance of the game when he met a cross from Bjarne Goldbaek from the byline and was only denied by an outstanding save from the Latvians' goalkeeper, Alexander Kolinko, while the Danish defender Jes Hogh was inches wide from the ensuing corner.

Mostly, however, Chelsea concentrated on simply retaining possession and the only ripples of excitement from the small home crowd were caused by the odd, isolated attacking foray by Skonto.

Marcel Desailly and Hogh were assured at the back, while Jody Morris and Dennis Wise controlled the game from central midfield with their industry, simple passes and ability to make themselves available. Further openings did come for Chelsea but Forssell ran the ball out of play in attempting to go round the keeper and then placed a glancing header just wide of the upright.

Skonto did at least start throwing men forward after the break and came within sight of the Chelsea goal in a brief flurry of action, but the goalkeeper Ed de Goey was a match for them.

Skonto Riga: Kolinko; Silagadze, Zemlinski, Blagonadezhdin, Rekhviashvili, Bleidelis (Menteshashvili, 75), Rubins, Miholaps, Y Laizans (Kolesnicenko, 87), Astafyev, Chaladze (Babichev, 63). Substitutes not used: Stephnous, Piedels, Korgalidze, Olsanskis.

Chelsea: De Goey (Cudicini, 79); Petrescu, Babayaro, Hogh, Desailly, Poyet (Nicholls, 64), Wise, Goldbaek (Harley, 83), Flo, Morris, Forssell. Substitutes not used: Leboeuf, Sutton, Zola, Clement.

Referee: G Veissiere (Fr).