Amoah's strike deals crushing blow to Chelsea

Click to follow
The Independent Online

St Gallen 2 Chelsea 0 St Gallen win 2-1 on agg.

St Gallen 2 Chelsea 0 St Gallen win 2-1 on agg.

Chelsea's troubled season took a traumatic turn for the worse last night as the European minnows of St Gallen, Switzerland, overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit in the first round of the Uefa Cup to eliminate the London club from the competition.

Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea coach who, according to his new board, was appointed to bring success on Europe's biggest stages, had his misery compounded by a serious injury to Roberto Di Matteo. The Swiss-born Italian midfielder was carried from the pitch in the first half with a suspected broken left leg and was last night in hospital awaiting a verdict on his condition.

"We knew tonight's game would be hard because after the first leg the tie was not safe," said Ranieri through an interpreter who did not need to translate the disappointment on the Italian's face. "St Gallen gave their all and played very intelligently. They wanted to play on the counter-attack and we gave the opportunity to do so."

Asked whether he had any criticism for those of his players who allowed St Gallen enough space to carve out their historic win, Ranieri added: "That's the kind of thing I only talk about in the dressing-room, not with anyone else."

On the potential loss of Di Matteo, for months if not the rest of the season, Ranieri said: "He is a very important player. It seems he has a fracture. We'll know more in the next few days. At the moment the leg is very swollen."

The Chelsea coach tried to make the best of things but was less than convincing when he called the defeat "a slight setback." He added: "It will be hard, but we'll come back very strong after this. Men can fall but I like to see men rise and start again."

Ranieri's opposite number, Marcel Koller, said that he thought Chelsea had underestimated his side, but was too ecstatic with his win to dwell on the subject. "I told my team to play with their hearts and they'd get through," he said. Play with their hearts they did.

The first three chances of any substance fell to the home side, who had the world's No 1 women's tennis player, Martina Hingis, cheering among a partisan, if not literally home, crowd. St Gallen's own ground, 20 miles from Zurich, has a capacity of 9,000, so for last night they borrowed Grasshoppers' stadium, and filled it with green-wigged fans.

In the fifth minute, the Romanian international, Ionel Gane, ran into space to collect a through ball but blasted over. A few minutes later he exploited the same defensive porosity to run on to a volleyed cross and saw his flick-on fly just wide. Sascha Müller then lashed a shot from 20 yards and it was only through some acrobatics by the Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who flung himself backwards to palm the ball over the bar, that he was denied.

He did not have to wait long to open his account. St Gallen's Ghanaian striker, Charles Amoah, picked up the ball outside the area and, seeing Müller running on, fed the ball through for a tap-in. Things got worse for Chelsea quite quickly.

Just before the half hour the visitors saw Di Matteo - who started his career with FC Zurich - carried off after being clattered by Daniel Imhof. And then St Gallen scored again. Gane and Amoah broke, the former fed the latter in the box, and Amoah made it 2-0 and 2-1 on aggregate. An identical effort on the cusp of half-time went narrowly wide.

Ranieri, who had put on Sam Dalla Bona for Di Matteo in the first half, made a second change at half-time, replacing Christian Panucci with Rati Aleksidze. It made no significant difference, although the Georgian, on his debut, did see one 30-yard shot rattle the bar.

In the 55th minute, Tore Andre Flo missed a good chance when he skied his shot after being played into space by Gianfranco Zola. The Norwegian was taken off and replaced by Eidur Gudjohnsen, but then he too missed a chance having been set up by Zola.

It was not going to be Chelsea's night and as the minutes ticked by, the crowd became increasingly fervent in their chanting. As the whistle blew, and car horns outside the stadium filled the air with noise, one St Gallen supporter approached the press box and said: "Swiss football, it exists." Which is something Chelsea, and Ranieri know now all too well.

St Gallen (4-4-2): Stiel; Zellweger, Imhof, Zwyssig, Dal Santo; Gairo, Müller (Contini, 86), Guido, Nixon (Colacino, 71); Amoah, Gane (Berger, 67). Substitutes not used: Suhner (gk), Pinnelli, Winkler, Eugster.

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cudicini; Panucci (Aleksidze, h-t), Bogarde, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Melchiot, Di Matteo (Dalla Bona, 32), Morris; Zola, Flo (Gudjohnsen, 56); Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Ferrer, Terry, Harley.

Referee: P Garibian (France).