Football: Chelsea stay cool to earn passage

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' Cup 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 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 Latvian goalkeeper, while the 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. The home side never threatened to break through as they had done in the opening half hour at Stamford Bridge before being reduced to 10 men.

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.

Just before the break, the Skonto defender Levans Silagadze planted a cross shot just over the bar, while Andrejs Rubins shot straight at the keeper, Ed de Goey.

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. David Chaladze turned and shot but, even though De Goey allowed the ball to sneak under his body, it still went a couple of yards wide of the far post.

The same player then caused Chelsea's most nervous moment as De Goey palmed away his powerful cross-shot on the edge of the six-yard box but Desailly was on hand to calmly clear the ball.

Skonto Riga: Kolinko, Silagadze, Zemlinski, Blagonadezhdin, Rekhviashvili, Bleidelis, Rubins, Miholaps, Laizans, Astafyev, Chaladze. Substitutes: Stephnous, Babichev, Menteshashvili, Piedels, Kolesnicenko, Korgalidze, Olsanskis.

Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu, Babayaro, Hogh, Desailly, Poyet, Wise, Goldbaek, Flo, Morris, Forssell. Substitutes: Leboeuf, Sutton, Nicholls, Cudicini, Zola, Clement, Harley.

Referee: G Veissiere (Fr).