Basel 1 Chelsea 2 match report: David Luiz's late show finally establishes Europa League superiority for Chelsea
Defender scores late free-kick in semi-final first leg
Centre-half, holding midfielder and, as of tonight, you can add the title of last-minute match-winning goalscorer to David Luiz's list of strengths. He once walked a very fine line between chaos and brilliance but on nights like these the Brazilian looks like he will be an integral part of Chelsea's future.
Deep into injury-time, and having conceded an equaliser from an unjust penalty, Chelsea might have been forgiven for seeing the game out and hanging onto the draw for the home leg. But what looked like a sense of injustice drove them on to play eight minutes, including injury-time, of their best football of the game during which they ground Basle down attack by attack.
From Luiz came the winner, a free-kick drilled low past the goalkeeper Yann Sommer, and celebrated in front of a small knot of Chelsea supporters in the corner of the St-Jakob Park. Many of them boarded coaches for the long journey home after the game, unable to find any accommodation in Basle because of the large numbers attending the city's world watch fair. No complaints this time about the time added-on.
A caveat to Luiz's heroics in midfield was that he was fortunate to stay on the pitch having crunched his studs into Philipp Degen's shin in the second half. Equally, Luiz was the victim of a two-footed challenge by Aleksandar Dragovic - that was only punished with a yellow card by the Czech referee Pavel Kralovec, who had a poor game.
Where it leaves Chelsea is on the brink of the fifth European final in the club's history which, given this strange, tumultuous season of theirs, does not feel like a bad outcome. Rafa Benitez will never have the love of the Chelsea support but he might find himself parading some silverware in Amsterdam on 15 May which would make for an awkward atmosphere.
Of course, Benitez will never be forgiven if he does not deliver Chelsea Champions League football next season but as things stand, the humble old Europa League is proving a pretty agreeable distraction. Chelsea take two away goals into next Thursday's second leg at Stamford Bridge for which they are overwhelming favourites.
This was not a classic game by any means and Basle were well below par until the latter stages. In the meantime we witnessed a resilient Chelsea, a get-the-job-done Chelsea, then once the Czech referee Pavel Kralovec had given his bizarre penalty decision against Cesar Azpilicueta, for what he thought was a foul on Valentin Stocker, the away side chased down the victory in stunning fashion.
Both John Terry and the substitute Oscar might have scored in the few minutes before Luiz hit the winner with the last kick of the game. It was a reminder that Chelsea have brought Champions League quality into the Europa League and, if they play to their strengths, should win this competition.
There were frustrations again where Fernando Torres was concerned. He has been forced to play a lot of games recently, and this was another 90 minutes for him while the likes of Oscar and Juan Mata started on the bench, but even so he did not pose the threat that Chelsea need in that position. That said, he was unlucky to hit the post in the second half.
For much of the game, Basle looked like a team whose season started on 13 July. They have developed a reputation for themselves this season in making it as far as the semi-finals, and accounting for Spurs in the previous round, but in the first half they just failed to create any meaningful chances.
Chelsea were also inconsistent on the counter attack but there was no doubting their cohesion at the back. Terry, left out the side for the game at Anfield on Sunday, was re-united with Branislav Ivanovic. Also back in the side after injury was Ashley Cole for the first time since the win over Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final on 1 April. A booking for Cole means he will be suspended for the second leg.
The home team had a lot of possession, especially in the first half, and looked much more like a side that belongs in Europe's second tier than they did over two games against Tottenham in the previous round. The Ivorian midfielder Serey Die dictates a lot of their play but is limited and the captain and centre-forward Marco Streller struggled to make an impact.
The goal Chelsea scored on 13 minutes was a soft one for Basle to concede. The home side's goalkeeper Sommer had done well to save Frank Lampard's shot on the run from Azpilicueta's cross. The subsequent corner was allowed to travel across the area where Ivanovic got a downward header that clipped Victor Moses and bounced in.
Reliable as ever, Petr Cech had to push over a short free-kick which Fabian Schar struck in the 17th minute but really that was the most that the Chelsea goalkeeper was stretched in the first half. The best of the chances fell to Chelsea on the counter-attack, especially when Eden Hazard was given a sight of goal before half-time by Moses' cut-back but failed to keep his shot on target.
Hazard had been Chelsea's best attacking threat and although he was later replaced by Mata it was from him that Chelsea's chances came before the late flurry at the end. Hazard got away down the left wing on 53 minutes and cut back for Torres whose left foot shot came back off the post.
Stocker had hit the post on 48 minutes but only in the last ten minutes of the game did Chelsea find themselves on the back foot. For all the pressure, Chelsea were coping until Azpilicueta made an innocuous challenge on Stocker and the Czech referee pointed to the spot. Schar beat Cech easily but from that moment, the home side fell back.
Chelsea came at their opponents and created more chances in those final stages than they had in the whole game. Terry had a header from close range well saved by Sommer. Torres and Oscar both had chances to score. With Basle committing fouls around the area, Luiz seized his chance to score the winner. No team has ever followed success in the European Cup by winning Europe's secondary competition but as consolations go, it would suit Chelsea nicely.
Man of the match Luiz.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee P Kralovec (Cz Rep).
Second leg Thursday 2 May, Stamford Bridge.
Korkmaz earns Cristian a reprieve
Fenerbahce will take a slender lead to Portugal for next week's second leg after edging past Benfica 1-0 in the other Europa League semi-final. A close-range header from Egemen Korkmaz was correctly adjudged to have crossed the line before Jardel's clearance with 18 minutes left, to give the Turkish side hope of reaching a first European final. The hosts enjoyed the better chances, Moussa Sow hitting the bar and Dirk Kuyt the post, while Nicolas Gaitan did likewise for Benfica.
Fenerbahce spurned a golden opportunity from the spot in first-half injury time, Cristian only able to strike the post, leaving the disconsolate Brazilian in tears as the teams went off.
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