CHELSEA, England's sole representatives in Europe following the exits of Aston Villa and Manchester United earlier this week, have been drawn against Vicenza in the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup.
Following a nervous start to Thursday's quarter-final second leg, Chelsea completed a 5-2 aggregate victory against Real Betis. Their next opponents were in even more impressive scoring form, beating the Dutch side Roda JC Kerkrade 5-1 on the night, 9-1 on aggregate.
However, despite that performance, the Italian side are struggling in the bottom half of Serie A, which has given Chelsea hope of reaching their first European final for 27 years.
The Chelsea player-coach, Gianluca Vialli, was delighted after his side avoided the favourites, VfB Stuttgart, who must play Lokomotiv Moscow, but said: "Whoever we drew in the semi-finals was going to be very tough. It's a lottery really.
"Vicenza are not doing very well in the league, but that's because I'm sure they've been concentrating on European competition. They have no superstars, nobody in the Italian national team, but they're a team who play for each other. I've played against Vicenza many times over many years - first of all in the lower division when I was with Cremonese.
"It's going to be very interesting going there now with three Italians in our side. I know their manager quite well and he's an excellent organiser.
"Their ground is quite tight and the crowd are close to the pitch, a bit like an English stadium. And I'm not so sure it is best for us to play away first.
"So long as we go there and play positively and don't make too many silly mistakes we can do it. But we can't play for 0-0 in the away leg. We are not very good at that, it seems.
"And in any case, it is dangerous to try to play for 0-0. It can make the home leg very tense and I believe it is better to risk a few mistakes in the first leg by trying to score goals instead of leaving everything up to the home game."
Vicenza's next two Serie A games are against Roma at home tomorrow and away to Milan the following Saturday, and Vialli will send two of his coaching staff, Graham Rix and Eddie Niedzwiecki, and also his assistant manager Gwyn Williams to spy on them while he concentrates on next Sunday's Coca-Cola Cup final against Middlesbrough.
In the draw for the semi- finals of the European Cup, last season's finalists Juventus and Borussia Dortmund remained on course for a rematch in the final.
Dortmund, who beat the Italian champions Juventus 3-1 in last year's final in Munich, will face Real Madrid, while Juve, bidding for their third successive final, were drawn against Monaco, who ousted Manchester United on the away goals rule at Old Trafford.
For Monaco, the only club left in the competition never to have won the title - or any European competition - the draw was not what they wanted.
"This is the most difficult draw that that could have happened to us," their technical director, Henri Biencheri, said. "Everyone wanted to play us, but we drew United and we are still here. All the teams have won many titles and we've won nothing up to now, so we just have to work with what we have."
In the Uefa Cup, Lazio and Internazionale also avoided each other, raising the possibility of an all-Italian final and an Italian clean sweep in all three competitions. Inter, last season's losing Uefa Cup finalists, will play Spartak Moscow, while Lazio drew Atletico Madrid, the conquerors of Aston Villa.
Juventus (It) v Monaco (Fr)
Real Madrid (Sp) v Borussia Dortmund (Ger)
First leg 1 April, second leg 15 April
Vicenza (It) v Chelsea (Eng)
VfB Stuttgart (Ger) v Lokomotiv Moscow (Rus)
First leg 2 April, second leg 16 April
Atletico Madrid (Sp) v Lazio (It)
Internazionale (It) v Spartak Moscow (Rus)
First leg 31 March, second leg 14 April
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