Football: Zola zips up Chelsea's European adventure

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3 Real Betis 1 Chelsea win 5-2 on aggregate

RED, white and blue were the colours at Stamford Bridge last night as Chelsea emerged as Britain's sole European representatives.

After a horribly nervous start in which they allowed Betis to level the aggregate score at 2-2, they ran out convincing winners to secure their place in the European Cup Winners' Cup semi-final.

At the end of a week in which Aston Villa and Manchester United departed the European scene, Chelsea's cosmopolitan blend found the verve to progress to their sixth semi-final in the last five years. They look capable of matching their victory in the same competition 27 years ago - and with a Coca-Cola final coming up, their cups are brimming over.

But if Chelsea widened their horizons, the Betis manager, Luis Aragones, also discovered new vistas - he was given a tour of Chelsea's ground after being sent off before the second half for haranguing the referee and then hauled out of his bolt-hole among the Betis supporters by a large team of police and stewards.

"I have played and managed in Europe for 38 years and I have never been treated like that," Aragones said. He did not respond to the question of what he thought of the stadium.

Aragones claimed the German referee, Bernd Heynemann, had dismissed him after he had complained that the referee was allowing too much "hard play". Chelsea hard play, that was.

The most obvious point of contact occurred on an increasingly regular basis between Dennis Wise and the Betis midfielder Canas, who clashed again as the sides left the field at half-time.

Chelsea's player-manager, Gianluca Vialli, responded to Aragones' claims that his side had been "tough" in forthright fashion. "I wish we were tougher," he said. "We didn't start tough enough. Then when they scored, we started to be better, tougher, harder. We realised we were in danger of throwing away everything we had done in the first leg.''

Vialli felt able to play himself in favour of the man who had scored both goals in the 2-1 win in Seville, Tore Andre Flo.

But his game plan appeared to be going awry as Betis scored after 21 minutes through Finidi George after Alfonso's swift through ball had caused Frank Leboeuf to slip over.

Although Chelsea knew at that point that if they kept the score to 0- 1, they would progress on the basis of two away goals, they looked far from secure. It was a big if for a defence which had only managed one clean sheet in the previous 17 games, and that against Barnsley.

But there is always hope up front for the Blues. And after first Zola, with a free-kick, and Vialli, with a far-post header, had hit the woodwork, they steadied their nerves with an equaliser after half an hour, when Frank Sinclair headed home Zola's free-kick.

Aragones missed the goal which finally stilled Chelsea's nerves four minutes into the second half, as Roberto Di Matteo dispossessed Ruiz Merino and sidestepped a defender before curling a shot past the keeper.

Vialli nearly made it 3-1 after 64 minutes, and played a crucial part in achieving that with a minute remaining as he diverted a cross from the substitute, Bernard Lambourde, to Zola, who emphasised his timely return to form with a majestic drive.

It was a fine way to register Chelsea's 100th goal in European competition. They have never lost a home tie in Europe - and they will learn today who their opponents will be as they strive to match the exploits of Dave Sexton's team in 1971.

"We are very proud to be the only British team left in Europe," Vialli said. "I think we have the ability to win the semi-final, but we have to work hard to improve our physical condition."

Afterwards, Zola appeared bemused by Aragones' claim that Chelsea had played too tough a game. "I didn't see any hard tackles out there tonight," he said with a grin. "Maybe he should watch some more matches.''

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Sinclair, Duberry, Leboeuf, Clarke; Petrescu (Lambourde, 87), Newton, Di Matteo, Wise; Zola, Vialli. Substitutes not used: M Hughes, Hitchcock (gk), Myers, Flo, P Hughes, Morris.

Real Betis (3-4-2-1): Prats; Merino, Olias, Josete; Marquez, Alexis, Canas (Oli, 62mins), Luis Fernandez (Cuellar, 72); Finidi, Jarni; Alfonso. Substitutes not used: Urena, Ivan, Nadi, Otero, Cuellar, Pinto (gk).

Referee: Bernd Heynemann (Germany).