Football: Chelsea given a frosty welcome

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A FEARSOME heating bill should ensure that Chelsea's European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-final second leg match away to Valerenga goes ahead tonight, but cannot guarantee that conditions will be any better than on their previous trip to Norway 17 months ago.

On their way to winning the competition last season, Gianluca Vialli's team suffered a 3-2 defeat in Tromso - despite his two goals - in a game that most people other than the referee felt should have been abandoned, as a second-half blizzard made conditions increasingly farcical.

Valerenga, who are 3-0 down from the first leg, have had undersoil heating on for two months, but it was still an unpleasant shock for the Chelsea squad to leave behind London's balmy spell yesterday and find two inches of snow on the ground. "After Tromso and this, the next time I want to see snow is on a skiing holiday," Vialli said. Things might have been worse. Shortly after the team's charter flight from Gatwick touched down, Oslo Airport was closed and one group of supporters arriving from Heathrow found themselves diverted 200 miles south to Gothenburg.

Chelsea have played in Sweden and then Denmark in the first two rounds this season. Neither performance - a goalless draw with Helsingborg and a 1-0 win over FC Copenhagen - was particularly impressive, and tonight's game ought to offer the opportunity for something more convincing.

Chelsea will certainly welcome a respite from the unremitting nature of domestic football, following successive home defeats by Manchester United and West Ham. "Our form has been good but the results have been bad," Vialli said. The holders must do without their regular two central defenders, Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly, neither of whom travelled to Norway.

Leboeuf injured a thigh against Liverpool two weeks ago, and his compatriot had to go off against West Ham with a strained hamstring. Vialli said that he did not want to risk either player before Sunday morning's Premiership match away to Aston Villa, though he admitted the position might have been different were this another game at Villa Park - the venue for the final on May 19.

Michael Duberry and Bernard Lambourde, who have each started only one match in the competition this season, are the obvious replacements in defence for the French pair, though Andy Myers played on Saturday. Until recently Myers did not even have a squad number, and it would presumably give him a warm glow even to be a substitute tonight.

Bjarne Goldbaek, a scorer for Copenhagen against Chelsea in the second round, and the young Finnish striker Mikael Forssel are both ineligible. Vialli has no qualms about picking Graeme Le Saux and seems likely to start himself ahead of Tore Andre Flo.

That would please Valerenga's coach, Egil Olsen, the masterbuilder of Norwegian football, who always had a place for the lanky striker in his heart and his national team. "I'll be pleased if Tore is on the bench," he said. "I believe it will improve our chances of pulling off a miracle."

That is no exaggeration of the Norwegians' task. Although Chelsea have not scored in three games since the first leg, they have conceded only one goal in five Cup-Winners' Cup matches, and ought to reach the semi- final without much alarm. Staying cool will certainly not be a problem.

CHELSEA (probable): De Goey; Ferrer, Duberry, Lambourde, Le Saux; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Wise, Babayaro; Vialli, Zola.