Home » Champ League, Latest » CL Match Report: Chelsea 4 Napoli 1; agg 5-4 AET

In the end, it will be remembered as one of the great Stamford Bridge nights of the Roman Abramovich era. The drama was almost unrelenting and it culminated with Branislav Ivanovic turning in the goal that keeps Chelsea in the Champions League from a position that had looked almost unassailable after the first leg in Naples.

For a right-back to find himself close to the penalty spot, 15 minutes into extra time in a tie of this enormity summed up a wild and eccentric night in which Napoli fully played their part and had enough of the ball in dangerous areas to feel aggrieved about their absence from Friday’s quarter-final draw. Yet, ultimately, this was the night when Chelsea reminded us of all the great qualities that have been kept in storage for too long this season.

They gave everything and earned the right to take the tie into extra time after Ivanovic, again, had advanced forward in the 75th minute and his goalbound header was handled by the substitute Andrew Dossena, giving Frank Lampard the opportunity to make it 3-1 on the night from the penalty spot and 4-4 on aggregate.

This, however, told only part of the story of a night in which Chelsea had gone 2-0 ahead to lead on away goals, courtesy of headed goals from John Terry and Didier Drogba, only for Gokhan Inler’s peach of a shot eight minutes later to send the game lurching back into Napoli’s favour.

This was a night so devoted to attacking football there was seldom any sense the fun would stop there. Chelsea, outpassed early on, looked the stronger and hungrier side in extra-time, and it was finally rewarded when Drogba turned the ball into Ivanovic’s path for the game’s decisive moment. It had been a monumental effort from Chelsea, particularly given the quality of their opposition.

Napoli were strong and distinguished opponents. They were quick to the ball, powerful in the challenge and when they broke forward they did so with pace and numbers. The fourth-placed side in Serie A played with togetherness and great purpose. Most of all, they gave the impression they had seen what happened to Milan at Arsenal last week and were determined not to succumb to complacency.

What quickly became very clear was that if Chelsea were to rescue the tie it was going to need a performance totally out of keeping with how their league season has gone. Napoli were the better side by some considerable distance for the opening half an hour and when Drogba eluded Hugo Campagnaro to head in Ramires’s cross for the opening goal it was during a part of the game when the only thing eluding Walter Mazzarri’s team was the ability to get the ball past Petr Cech.

In one five-minute period alone, Marek Hamsik had three chances to beat the Chelsea goalkeeper. Edinson Cavani was a stylish and elusive opponent and it was rare to see an away side at Stamford Bridge playing with such adventure. The Drogba goal, in truth, was almost a shock. Yet Drogba’s anticipation as Ramires turned the ball into the penalty area brought new hope.

In the next attack, it needed a decisive intervention from Campagnaro to prevent what would surely have been another Drogba goal at the far post. Soon afterwards, Daniel Sturridge flashed a header wide and suddenly Chelsea’s opponents looked vulnerable.

By half-time, Paolo Cannavaro had rescued his team once more, with another last-ditch clearance as Drogba was lurking. Even then, however, Napoli stuck rigidly to the policy that the best approach was to play their natural attacking game, and that ensured there was always that element of risk about the home side committing too many players forward. At one point, Napoli broke forward, three on two, only for Cavani to drag his shot wide. It was tense, draining stuff.

Yet a pattern was subtly emerging. If Napoli had a flaw, it was when crosses were delivered into their penalty area. Two minutes into the second half Lampard sent in a corner and Drogba, again, was the first to react. The ball was a couple of inches too high for him but Terry was coming in behind. His header was expertly taken and suddenly the entire complexion of the night had changed.

The disappointment for Chelsea was that they did not do a more adequate job of protecting the lead. On 55 minutes Dossena, the Napoli substitute, crossed from the left and Terry’s clearing header landed on the chest of Inler 20 yards out. His control was impeccable, followed by a right-foot volley that went through Lampard’s legs and speared a path into the bottom right-hand corner of Cech’s net. What followed was drama of the highest form. Morgan de Sanctis, the Napoli goalkeeper, saved Ivanovic’s deflected shot and produced an even better stop to keep out a left-foot effort from Drogba on the turn.

The pressure was building, with Drogba a constant menace and Fernando Torres looking lively after replacing Sturridge. This felt like the Chelsea of old and Lampard made no mistake after Dossena had given the home side a helping hand.

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