Hazard’s Last Gasp Strike puts Blues through
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2013)
“I prefer to think of the positives,” interim manager Rafa Benítez said regarding Fernando Torres misfiring again. “He had four chances. He will score one or two [soon].” Benítez refuses to give up on Torres coming good for Chelsea. An injury time strike by Belgian international Eden Hazard grabbed a draw that sent Chelsea through to meet Steaua Bucharest, who beat Ajax on penalties.
It took something out of the ordinary to beat Sparta Praha goal-keeper Tomáš Vaclik and that was provided with extra-time beckoning by Hazard. The midfielder collected the ball in the area and fired past the excellent Vaclik to deny the Czechs the opportunity to take the tie into extra time.
Chelsea deserved to progress, but the lack of confidence displayed by Torres must be a concern. Benítez highlighted his work-rate and the fact that chances were created for him, but of five chances only one was on target and that was saved easily as the Spaniard latched onto Ramires’ pass, outpaced the defender, but his attempted lob was saved by Vaclik.
Within five minutes he almost profited from excellent work on the right flank by African Cup of Nations winner Victor Moses, but while Torres’ shot beat Vaclik, it also passed agonisingly past the post. He almost converted Juan Mata’s cross after the former Valencia play-maker had been found on the right flank by Oscar, who would later make way for Hazard, but his flicked lob landed on the roof of the net. A header from John Mikel Obi’s cross missed too – a hat-trick of presentable first-half chances that sums up Torres’ luck at Stamford Bridge.
John Terry’s flicked lob was saved by Vaclik and Torres almost provided an assist for Moses by chesting down Obi’s pass for Moses to shoot, but Vaclik was equal to that and Hazard’s free-kick that somehow found a path through on goal. Ramires was the least fortunate, hitting the post early in the second half.
However, the visitors contributed plenty with most of their best work revolving around their captain Marek Matějovský. His free-kick found Václav Kadlec on the right and he pulled it back for David Lafata to score his first goal for his new club, past Petr Čech. Matějovský’s 22 yard shot flew just past Čech’s post after being found by Lukáš Vácha’s free-kick. While Chelsea were the better side it was hard luck for Sparta to concede so late in the tie. Meanwhile, Benítez is not thinking of winning the Europa League – yet.