Wise's level best undermines Milan

Late equaliser coupled with shock defeat for Berlin leaves Chelsea in reach of next round
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The Independent Football

An Englishman abroad - the only one actually starting at San Siro last night - sent Chelsea to joint top of Champions' League Group H and all but secured their passage to the next stage of the continent's premier club competition.

An Englishman abroad - the only one actually starting at San Siro last night - sent Chelsea to joint top of Champions' League Group H and all but secured their passage to the next stage of the continent's premier club competition.

Due to the point secured by Dennis Wise's equaliser Chelsea need only to draw next week's home match with Hertha Berlin, who lost at home to Galatasaray last night, to qualify regardless of Milan's result in Istanbul the same night. Should the match at Stamford Bridge be drawn, the Italian champions could not then finish ahead of Chelsea because the London club had the better of the two results between the teams, thanks to Wise's away goal.

Respect was the theme beforehand, from both players and supporters. That Paolo Maldini and Marcel Desailly should express their mutual appreciation was to be expected; the sight of Chelsea fans traipsing, in awe, around the Duomo, the city's dramatic cathedral, less so.

The travelling support were in full voice by the time they reached San Siro stadium a few hours later but now they had the drums and chants of the Curva Sud to compete with. Not that they had much to cheer in the opening minutes as Chelsea made a vibrant start. Christian Abbiati, Milan's impressive young goalkeeper, had to make two good saves in the first seven minutes, from Tore Andre Flo and Dan Petrescu, as Chelsea twice opened up their illustrious opponents. With Flo, who also shot just past the near post, a mobile figurehead, and Wise breaking intelligently from midfield, Chelsea made it clear that they were not overawed by the occasion or setting.

Milan, however, were too good to be pushed back for long and, after incurring a booking for Massimo Ambrosini for dissent, they began to create chances of their own. Andriy Shevchenko, inevitably, was the spearhead and, in quick succession mid-way through the half, he put a free-kick just wide, almost won a penalty from Frank Leboeuf, and - from Serginho's free-kick - headed against the the post.

Milan had parity, but not control and Chelsea continued to create chances. After 21 minutes Wise, running on to Petrescu's pass, crossed to the far post where Flo shot over. Seven minutes later Albert Ferrer brought another excellent save from Abbiati with a 20-yard drive. Good chances, but no goals; would Chelsea come to rue their wastefulness? It seemed they might as Milan pressed forward again, Leonardo volleying narrowly wide and Ed De Goey clutching an Oliver Bierhoff effort as Leboeuf had a nervy spell.

None the less, Chelsea reached the break without conceding a goal, although Gianfranco Zola was booked for dissent; Roberto Ayala was also cautioned, for fouling Gustavo Poyet.

The tie resumed amid smoke, the Curva Sud having lit a cluster of flares in the hope of igniting a response from their heroes. Though Ambrosini drew a terrific save from De Goey, and Bierhoff almost steered an Andres Guglieminpietro shot into the goal, Alberto Zaccheroni, Milan's coach, soon decided his team needed more tangible help.

Into the fray, to the accompaniment of cheers, came Zvonimir Boban. On Saturday he turned the Milan derby, for his next trick he had to keep Milan in the Champions' League. Leonardo, who had been booked, made way.

Chelsea remained resolute as Milan's yellow cards piled up. Alessandro Costacurta, no stranger to suspensions, will, like Leonardo, miss their next match after being booked for a heavy tackle on Poyet.

Next into the book was a Chelsea player, Ferrer, a small price to pay for pulling back Shevchenko as he threatened to break clear. From the free-kick, Desailly made a magnificent block. He followed that up, a minute later, by halting a mazy run by the Ukrainian.

With 17 minutes remaining, Chelsea lifted the siege, a flowing move ending with Wise crossing from the right. Arriving late in the box was Poyet, who met the ball firmly but, as the Chelsea fans behind the goal leapt in anticipation, Abbiati made a stunning save. Within seconds the game turned as the ball was transferred to the other end and, from Serginho's cross, Bierhoff rose in front of Leboeuf to head in.

As Milan celebrated Gianluca Vialli, the Chelsea manager, sent on Roberto Di Matteo. It seemed an odd substitution given that the Italian had played just 84 minutes, against Huddersfield, since being injured in the first week of the season. Yet, with almost his first touch, he released Wise, who scored with a shot through Abbiati's legs to conclude a night of triumph for Vialli on his return to the country of his birth.

Milan (3-4-3): Abbiati; Costacurta, Ayala, Maldini; Guglieminpietro, Ambrosini, Gattuso, Serginho (Orlandini, 86); Leonardo (Boban, 57), Bierhoff, Shevchenko. Substitutes not used: Rossi (gk), Helveg, De Ascentis, N'Gotty, Sala.

Chelsea (3-5-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf, Babayaro; Petrescu (Morris, h-t), Deschamps, Wise, Poyet (Di Matteo, 75); Zola (Ambrosetti, 80), Flo. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Hogh, Sutton, Matteo, Lambourde.

Referee: N Levnikov (Russia).