The Chelski gladiators came, saw and conquered (just)

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The Independent Football

The Chelsea team that can only be described as Roman's gladiators - built by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich at a cost so far of £225m - finally appeared together last night and showed what money can buy.

The team eased past their little-known opponents in their first competitive match as the new high-rollers of world football. The comfortable 2-0 win makes the return leg at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's west London home, a formality unless there is to be one of the greatest ever shocks in sporting history. But then who would have foreseen what has happened at Chelsea this summer? The victory by two goals - including an own goal - also opens the way to the lucrative market of the Champions League which will be worth around £20m for the Premiership club. Not that nowadays they are short of a few bob.

The spending so far may be loose change to a Russian billionaire but the effect has stretched from the King's Road to the Carpathians. Zilina (population 88,000 and with a previous claim to fame being as a kind of Slovak version of Crewe judging by the number of railway sidings around the ground) has seen nothing like it.

And the town was determined to make the most of it having refused to switch this tie to the capital Bratislava and keep it here 150 miles north in its tiny green-and-yellow stadium with a capacity of just 6,211. Who could blame them? There were Mexican waves, alarmingly enthusiastic bands and even a Slavic tribute to Mr Abramovich followed by an intense downpour of rain amid the 30C heat.

But then British football has also seen nothing like the Russian whose wealth makes other sugar daddies seem a little short in the saccharin stakes. One of a handful of oligarchs who made their fortunes in post-Soviet years, he has pledged a more than reasonable chunk of his cash making Chelsea, one of the perennial underachievers, a success.

Recent European campaigns for the club have ended in early embarrassment: defeat to lowly teams from Switzerland, Israel and Norway. Now they have one foot in the big time. Their fans were able to celebrate last night, with Zilina's bars staying open late - many usually close at 10pm in what is a sleepy town in every sense - to enjoy their own dividend from the Abramovich effect. Indeed, before kick-off, local touts were trying to persuade the 200 or so Chelsea fans who made the trip to part with £100 for a ticket as they milled around the small town square - when they usually cost £1.20 and had been raised to £6.50 for this match, their first against an English team.

Still this was the biggest game in the 95-year history of a club whose record signing cost £100,000 - a week's wages for Chelsea's Juan Sebastian Veron, or eight years' salary for the Slovakians whose squad is valued at about £1.4m. Not even enough to take a stake in the Argentinian's appendages.