Aguero free-kick takes edge off Drogba's return

Atletico Madrid 2 Chelsea 2
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The Independent Online

Didier Drogba made a scoring return to European action to help Chelsea through to the last 16 of the Champions League, even though his brace could not help the Blues continue their 100 per cent record against Atletico Madrid tonight.

Drogba had missed Chelsea's opening three Group D games through suspension, but he was brought straight back into the starting line-up and looked to have earned Carlo Ancelotti's side the win with two goals in the last eight minutes.

Those strikes cancelled out a stunning volley by Atletico striker Sergio Aguero in the 66th minute, but the young Argentinian had the last say as he curled home a brilliant injury-time free-kick to salvage a 2-2 draw for the hosts.

Drogba was handed the ban following his foul-mouthed confrontation with Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo at the end of May's Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Barcelona.

The in-form striker, who has scored nine goals in the Premier League already this season, had served his punishment though and was included tonight.

And Ancelotti was rewarded for that decision as Drogba's brace helped ensure Chelsea will be playing Champions League football after Christmas.

It was not a comfortable night for the Premier League leaders, but they will be happy with the result and will be now be able to focus their efforts on this weekend's mouth-watering showdown with Manchester United.

Chances were at a premium in the first half, which may not have been so surprising for Atletico considering they had not scored in three Group D games while Chelsea were the only team yet to concede a goal in this phase of the competition.

It was perhaps more unexpected that Chelsea found opportunities difficult to come by as not only were they facing the leakiest defence in the Primera Division this season, but Ancelotti's men had scored 17 goals in their previous four matches.

The Blues also welcomed back Didier Drogba into their European line-up after completing his three-game suspension, and he had an early sight of goal following a terrible defensive mistake but pulled his shot wide of the far post.

That opportunity aside, it was mainly Atletico who looked the more likely scorers early on with Juanito and Diego Forlan not too far away, while former Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes brought a diving one-handed save out of Petr Cech with a curling shot from outside the area.

That was the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock before the break, although Salomon Kalou and Frank Lampard had efforts that might have briefly concerned Sergio Asenjo in the home goal before both went wide. Chelsea may not have been much of a threat in front of goal before the break, but they came within a whisker of taking the lead just five minutes after the re-start when Drogba struck the woodwork.

The Ivory Coast international was fouled in a dangerous position 25 yards out, and from the resulting free-kick the prolific hitman fired in a shot that Asenjo did well to turn onto his right-hand post.

Soon after that, Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores made the first change of the match, sending on highly-rated striker and one-time Chelsea target Aguero for ex-Liverpool man Florent Sinama Pongolle.

Aguero's first involvement in the game saw him go crashing inside the area, but the referee ignored the screams of the Atletico fans to award a penalty and waved play on.

Aguero was to prove to be the difference between the two sides, though, as he netted the only goal of the game.

Cech had just minutes previously saved a Reyes free-kick low down by his post, but he could do nothing about the strike that put Atletico ahead in the 66th minute. An Antonio Lopez cross from the left fell kindly to the unmarked Aguero after flicking off the head of John Terry, and the Argentinian slammed an unstoppable volley into the far top corner of the net as Chelsea's defence was finally breached in Europe.

That looked like earning Atletico their first win, but Drogba turned the game on its head with two goals in six minutes.

He drew Chelsea level in the 82nd minute when he rose highest to head home Malouda's cross from the left, and then looked to have clinched a stunning comeback victory as he latched onto Ashley Cole's through-ball and slotted home at the second attempt after Asenjo had saved his initial effort.

That was in the 88th minute, but there was still a late twist as Atletico netted an injury-time equaliser when Aguero curled home a brilliant free-kick from 25 yards out to seal a draw for the hosts.

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