Torres Puts Chelsea Into Last 8
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 14th 2013)
Rafa Benítez’ decision to start the goal-shy World Cup and European Championship winning Fernando Torres was vindicated as the Spanish striker netted the goal that sent 23 times Romanian champions Steaua Bucureşti out of the Europa League. With less than 20 minutes of normal time remaining Juan Mata’s pass from the right was dummied by the impressive Eden Hazard to find Torres on the left of the area. He shot across Ciprian Tătăruşanu to give the Blues a 3-1 lead on the night – enough to cancel out the 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
Despite dominating the opening half, often with pretty football exemplified by the combination of Mata and Hazard which resulted in the Belgian cutting in from the left to unleash a powerful close-range drive that Tătăruşanu parried. 34 minutes elapsed before Mata, who impressed as usual gave Chelsea the lead with a tap in after coming with Ramires to carve open Steaua’s defence.
Before the match Mihai Pintilii claimed that Steaua would take advantage of Chelsea’s much publicised difficulties and ‘annihilate’ the European champions. “We did make mistakes,” Steaua coach Laurentiu Reghecampf said. “We conceded on set pieces. Mata should not have taken that shot. Every game has its own story. There were a lot of moments that decided it. Raul Rusescu’s was big miss.”
After 13 minutes Rusescu was clean through, but he hadn’t reckoned on Czech international Petr Čech. Chelsea’s keeper’s fingertips denied the Romanians a huge boost. They had to wait for injury time to level the match and take a huge advantage into the break. The third corner taken by Iasmin Latvievici in quick succession wasn’t cleared and was swept into the top corner by Vlad Chiricheş.
“We knew it would be difficult,” Benítez said about the significance of that goal. “I told the players before the game we were playing a good team.” He repeated that at half time and Chelsea came out in determined mood. Within 15 minutes of the restart Mata’s cross was headed off the post and in by John Terry with Tătăruşanu watching on hopefully.
Whatever Benítez told his charges at half time, it worked. If motivation was needed Pintilii’s boast helped. Reghecampf would not criticise his player, preferring to talk about mistakes that led to the goals conceded and near misses that could but didn’t go his team’s way. “I don’t think Torres’ miss really helped us,” Reghecampf said. Despite his goal Torres missed a penalty and should have won another.
After 73 minutes Torres was tripped by Łukasz Szukała, but referee Stéphane Lannoy harshly waved play on. The Pole was fortunate. 13 minutes Alexandru Bourceanu, Steaua’s captain was penalised for a blatant trip on Hazard. He had already been booked for a nasty lunge from behind on Mata. Torres blasted his penalty against the cross-bar and over.
Benítez shrugged of concern over the miss. “We have three [penalty takers) and he was one,” he said. “He has confidence now. We are quite pleased because he was taking the penalty and had the confidence to take it.” Benítez got the best out of the former Atlético de Madrid marksman at Liverpool and still has confidence in him.
“It [Torres breaking his recent goal drought] was important for the team,” Benítez said. “He’s scoring a lot in training so we knew that he was close.” He shrugged off the penalty miss. Meanwhile, Reghecampf’s European journey for this season is over. “We conceded three goals,” he said. “From now on we have to focus on winning our 24th title.” That would offer a chance of Champion’s League football next season.
Chelsea face altogether different challenges. “Since I came here we are playing nine games a month,” Benítez said. “Obviously we’ll try to manage. The next one is the league and then we’ll think about the FA Cup. We want to be in all the top competitions, so we’ll try to do our best.” The Europa League for him at least is a pleasant distraction rather than the irritant that some see it as.