Chelsea 2 Fenerbahce 0 (Chel. win 3-2 on agg): Ballack lives up to billing but Chelsea fail to shine
Wednesday 09 April 2008
Just like the good old early Abramovich days at Stamford Bridge. A raucous European night and, on the final whistle, a rendition of "Kalinka", that popular Russian folk tune about a Slavic goddess and juniper berries that Chelsea used to play because they thought it pleased the club's owner.
But that is where the echoes end. There was no swagger and precious little drama as Chelsea – post Claudio Ranieri and post Jose Mourinho – reached their fourth Champions League semi-final in five years under their billionaire philanthropist.
This was no epic quarter-final, against a limited Fenerbahce, who failed to provide any real threat but ended up running Chelsea close. This was no touchline tussle between coaches of huge ability and greater ego.
And yet. And yet Chelsea, under Avram Grant, have now gone as far in this competition as the Doomed One, Ranieri, or the Special One, Mourinho, could ever take them. And who knows? A final in Moscow is the prize and maybe, just maybe, Grant, the assuming, over-promoted coach that he is, can be the man to fulfil his master's wishes. "Kalinka" will sing out again then even if Roman Abramovich is not, really, thought to be a great fan of the tune.
There were more songs last night with Fenerbahce, their 3,000 exuberant fans an impressive singing, dancing sea of yellow and black hope throughout, replying to Chelsea's celebrations with a taunt. "Liverpool, Liverpool," they sang, a reminder that Chelsea have fallen twice at the next stage to the opponents they now face.
There is a school of thought afoot about Grant. And it's one that, joke or no joke, claims that because he doesn't appear to know what he is doing at times then he's just the coach to out-manoeuvre a meticulous planner in Rafael Benitez, who appeared to have the sign over the equally meticulous Mourinho.
Certainly some of Grant's changes last night appeared a little odd and, for a while, he risked unbalancing his team so much that they almost permitted the Turkish champions back into the encounter. In the end there were two saves by Hilario, the stand-in goalkeeper, who emerged after Carlo Cudicini limped off midway through the first-half with a strained hamstring. To add to Petr Cech's facial injury, it means Chelsea are now down to their third-choice stopper. Hilario the hero? He was when he scooped out Gokhan Gonul's close-range shot and beat away Colin Kazim-Richards' long-range belter.
Neither stop was convincing but then it was in keeping with a Chelsea performance in which Michael Essien acquired the booking that means he will miss the first-leg of the semi-final. By the end Didier Drogba was falling theatrically to the turf and involving himself in arguments with opponents in an effort to waste time.
Chelsea over-turned last week's deficit but, after sweeping ahead through Michael Ballack's well-placed header, they really should have swept their opponents away. The way in which the German midfielder apparently effortlessly reached Frank Lampard's free-kick, in the fourth minute, again brought recollections of Mourinho's claim that here was a man who could win Chelsea the ultimate prize. And then, barely four minutes after that, Joe Cole smartly clipped Salomon Kalou's low cross only for his shot to ricochet against the post.
Chelsea had the momentum and they should have pressed on. Second and third goals should have followed but despite a rising shot from Drogba and three rapid breaks from Kalou, nothing happened. The loss of Cudicini may have been a factor but, then, surely not. Even so, Hilario's early involvements were to scramble after a first-time shot from Semih Senturk and then stand rooted as Lugano met Alex's free-kick. Unmarked, the central defender headed wide.
By now Chelsea were becoming progressively ragged. Twice more Drogba shot weakly from prime locations before a miscued clearance by Hilario nearly sent Deivid through. Ricardo Carvalho's rapid intervention snuffed out the threat. The lack of cohesion prompted Grant to withdraw Kalou. Suddenly Chelsea's formation appeared confused and Fenerbahce seized the initiative.
On came the former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman. Surely he wouldn't score? It appeared he would have a chance when, inside the area, Deivid headed towards him but, again, Carvalho was quick to the danger. It was becoming a little too nervy, a little too tense. It appeared self-inflicted. Ballack had warned that Chelsea were, at times, their own worst enemies, believing games were too easy and suffering because of it. It appeared this might, just, become another such occasion.
But soon after his caution, for dissent of all things, Essien made a positive contribution. He worked his way down the right, out-muscled the covering defender and slid the ball into the six-yard area where it was met by Lampard. The midfielder had endured a disappointing evening but he hammered the ball in from close range.
Even then a goal by Fenerbahce would have forced extra-time. They pushed on but, fortunately for Chelsea, didn't have the wherewithal to accomplish the task. Chelsea were through. The blue and white flags were waved aloft and the supporters could look to another semi-final and maybe, this time, the final itself. They will have to play better but that's been said all season and Chelsea could still achieve a unique double.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cudicini (Hilario, 25); Essien, Terry, Carvalho, A Cole; Ballack, Makelele, Lampard; Kalou (Belletti, 58), Drogba, J Cole (Malouda, 85). Substitutes not used: Shevchenko, Mikel, Alex, Anelka.
Fenerbahce (4-3-2-1): Volkan Demirel; Gokhan Gonul, Lugano, Edu, Gokcek Vederson (Bilgin, 89); Maldonado (Kezman, 60), Aurelio, Kazim-Richards; Deivid, Alex; Semih Senturk (Boral, 75). Substitutes not used: Serdar Kulbilge (gk), Yasin Cakmak, Onder Turaci, Selcuk Sahin.
Referee: H Fandel (Germany).
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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