Drogba seals Chelsea passage

Juventus 2 Chelsea 2 (Chelsea win 3-2 on aggregate)
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The Independent Football

Didier Drogba, whose disaffection was symbolic of Chelsea's mood under Luiz Felipe Scolari, underlined his rejuvenation, and subsequent status as the key player in Guus Hiddink's successful start, with the crucial goal in Piedmont last night.

Two-one down on the night Chelsea were in jeopardy of an early departure from the Champions League when Drogba, whose goal separated the sides in the first leg, stole his fourth in five games with seven minutes of the game remaining.

That finally killed off a brave performance from Claudio Ranieri's Juventus who had drawn level on aggregate after just 18 minutes through Vincenzo Iaquinta. Chelsea struggled to assert themselves but Michael Essien, making his first start after six months out with injury, scored a precious away goal in first-half stoppage time. That seemed enough, especially when Giorgio Chiellini was dismissed with 20 minutes left, but the evergreen Alessandro del Piero converted a penalty four minutes later to put the tie in doubt once again. Drogba, however, had the last word, stealing a goal which will make his 31st-birthday today all the sweeter.

"Drogba's form is very important to us," said Hiddink. "What is important for us is he shows his commitment and is always busy. He does not give a central defender an easy night, and it is even better when he scores. He is doing very well, the goal showed he is sharp."

As well as the jolt of conceding early Chelsea also had what looked a good goal ruled out though the ball had crossed the goalline. Chelsea did score almost immediately after, and their response to such adversity cheered Hiddink who added: "A team which shows a reaction like that can win seven or eight times out of 10."

The Dutchman had approached the tie cautiously, dropping Salomon Kalou in favour of Essien and deploying a four-man midfield in which John Obi Mikel was in the anchor role and the left side was left unstaffed.

It was Essien's first start since suffering a knee injury playing for Ghana in September and it soon became apparent his role was to stifle Pavel Nedved. This quickly became irrelevant as Nedved suffered a knee injury. Ranieri must have despaired. He already had four midfielders injured, which was one reason for playing Iaquinta alongside David Trezeguet with Del Piero, a veteran of four Champions League finals, three of them lost, in the hole.

Nedved's departure seemed to unsettle Chelsea more for Iaquinta struck as they adjusted to Juve's new shape. It was a poor goal to concede. The Italian international played a simple pass into Trezeguet and kept going, Trezeguet flicking the ball into his path for Iaquinta to drive past Petr Cech's left hand.

The crowd erupted. Suddenly the banner they unfurled before the match, which copied Barack Obama's slogan, "Yes we can", seemed realistic. Yet Juventus failed to build on their advantage, Chelsea stifling them before striking back.

In the circumstances the equaliser was richly deserved. The circumstances were that two minutes from the break Tiago handled and Drogba's free-kick appeared to be clawed back from behind the line by Gianluigi Buffon. The goal was not given, prompting both managers to add their voices to the clamour for the introduction of goalline technology, but it mattered not. Within two minutes Buffon was again stretching for the ball after Frank Lampard tried his luck from 30 yards. Buffon pushed the shot against the bar, it bounced down, possibly over the line. Essien settled all arguments by winning the foot race with two defenders to stab the ball in. The Ghanaian had not looked match-fit, but he was sharp enough when it mattered.

"We started sloppily," added Hiddink. "We lost too many duels and they could play easy passes into our defence. We were not marking well and they scored. But we knew we must not panic as we can score at any moment, which we did. In the second half we controlled the game more."

Juve's frustration at Chelsea's control, of the tie and of the play, manifested itself on the pitch, where Chiellini was booked for ploughing through the back of Michael Ballack, and off it as the crowd were moved to jeer both a mis-directed pass, and Ranieri's decision to withdraw Iaquinta.

However, the game was not yet safe and Chelsea's own nerves were exposed when Cech got in a scramble on the edge of his box, and handled outside it. He was booked and though the free-kick came to naught Juventus were encouraged.

The Italians then pressed again and Cech redeemed himself by tipping over a Trezeguet header following a Del Piero cross. Hiddink's response was to replace the tiring Essien with Juliano Belletti. More significantly Anelka was moved to wide left in a 4-5-1 formation.

Juventus' task became mountainous when Chielli was dismissed with 20 minutes to go for scything down Drogba from behind, his second yellow card. But the drama was not finished. Belletti handled a Trezeguet free-kick in the area. After what seemed an age, with the Spanish referee besieged by Chelsea protests, Del Piero calmly rolled in the spot-kick.

Juve, roared on, pushed forward, leaving gaps which Chelsea exploited when the tireless Ballack released Belletti on the right and Drogba slid in to convert the cross. Chelsea are through to their fifth quarter-final in six years but they will have to play better if they are to finally realise Roman Abramovich's dream.

Juventus (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Grygera, Mellberg, Chiellini, Molinaro; Marchisio, Tiago, Nedved (Salihamidzic, 13); Del Piero; Iaquinta (Giovinco, 61), Trezeguet (Amauri, 79). Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Zebina, Poulsen, Ariaudo.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex (Carvalho, 88), Terry, A Cole; Mikel; Essien (Belletti, 65), Ballack, Lampard; Drogba, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Deco, Kalou, Malouda, Mancienne.

Referee: A Undiano Mallenco (Spain).

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