The talk has been of a
crumbling empire at Stamford Bridge this season but the Chelsea
old guard showed they are not ready to be consigned to the
scrapheap after a thrilling win over Napoli in the Champions
League on Wednesday.
Skipper John Terry, striker Didier Drogba and midfielder
Frank Lampard, who between them have amassed 235 appearances in
the competition, all scored as Chelsea overcame a 3-1 first leg
deficit to win 4-1 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate.
Branislav Ivanovic belted home the winner in extra time to
break Napoli's resistance but it was the three pillars of their
title-winning dynasties who were the driving force as Chelsea
stayed on course for the trophy owner Roman Abramovich craves.
Andre Villas-Boas had been hired to build a bright new
future at Chelsea but the 3-1 defeat in Naples in February, in
which he left Lampard and Michael Essien on the bench, hastened
his departure after just eight months in the hot seat.
Under caretaker coach Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea have won
all three matches and the spirit the squad seemed to be lacking
under the callow Villas-Boas has returned.
"We are still putting our bodies on the line," Lampard,
whose penalty 15 minutes from the end of normal time took the
tie to extra time, told reporters.
"We still have the ability in the team to go a long way. You
still need the old boys and the experience in the team as well
as the young ones coming through.
"As far as Champions League nights go, this one goes right
up to the top," added the England midfielder. "To come back from
3-1 down against a quality team like Napoli is pretty special."
The opening 25 minutes on Wednesday did not look encouraging
as Chelsea attempted keep the English flag flying in the
competition after the demise of both Manchester clubs and
Arsenal by becoming only the fourth side to prevail in the
Champions League from a two-goal first leg deficit.
Napoli, roared on by 2,500 fans, bristled with attacking
intent and wasted several good chances to make Chelsea's task
even more daunting, the best of them falling to Uruguayan
dangerman Edinson Cavani who could only find the side-netting
when sliding in to meet Christian Maggio's cross.
Napoli's failure to capitalise came back to haunt them as
Drogba struck with a thundering header after 29 minutes, the
34-year-old launching himself at an in swinging cross from
Suddenly there was a spring in Chelsea's step and three
minutes into the second half it was Terry's turn to prove his
value to the club when he met Lampard's corner with a header
that tracked its way into the top corner.
When Swiss midfielder Inler chested down a Terry clearance
and hammered a shot past Petr Cech from 25 metres to spark
scenes of delirium from the Napoli fans it seemed another night
of Champions League pain beckoned.
However, Lampard swept home his penalty 15 minutes from time
after Andrea Dossena needlessly handled Ivanovic's header to
drag an enthralling last 16 tie into an extra 30 minutes.
Chelsea were not to be denied and seconds before the halfway
mark of extra time, Drogba cut back the perfect pass for
Ivanovic to rifle an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
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