Chelsea battle past tenacious Rubin in Europa League

Moscow, April 12 (IANS/RIA Novosti) A never-say-die performance from Rubin Kazan tested Chelsea before the Londoners secured their place in the Europa League semifinals, losing 2-3 in Moscow but going through 5-4 on aggregate.

Chelsea, cheered on by a strong contingent of fans braving chilly conditions at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Thursday entered the tie with a 3-1 lead from Stamford Bridge last week, but found it hard going after a strong start.

The Champions League holders strengthened their position within five minutes of kickoff as Frank Lampard’s long pass caught out Rubin goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov. He raced to claim the pass, but was far too slow as Fernando Torres lobbed the ball over his head from 25 yards.

Rubin equalised just after the break with a powerful header from Ivan Marcano. The goal came when Gokdeniz Karadeniz’s corner was cleared to Pablo Orbaiz, who swung in a deep cross that his fellow Spaniard headed home.

Chelsea restored order five minutes later when Victor Moses parted a sea of red Rubin shirts, helped by Ramires in a neat one-two, to score with a lofted shot from the edge of the box, echoing his goal in the first leg.

That goal left Rubin needing to score four more to give themselves a chance at progressing, but the Russians refused to give up, with Karadeniz getting his name on the score sheet after heading in an Alan Kasaev cross.

Rubin went ahead on the night when Cesar Azpilicueta pushed over Alexander Ryazantsev in the penalty area to concede a penalty. Bibras Natkho stepped up to score with a shot down the middle, his second of the tie after scoring another penalty at Stamford Bridge.

With Chelsea on the defensive for most of the match, Rubin had enough chances to pull off the come-from-behind victory.

Marcano headed inches wide with 20 minutes remaining, unable to duplicate his earlier goal, while Jose Salomon Rondon headed at Cech from a good position on 80 minutes.

Earlier, Alan Kasaev lit up the game briefly on the half-hour, dribbling past three Chelsea defenders before losing the ball. Roman Eremenko picked it up and shot wide.

On the stroke of half time, veteran winger Karadeniz timed his run perfectly, reaching Bibras Natkho’s ball over the top and forcing a fingertip save from Cech.

Chelsea’s scoring chances were few and far between, especially in a second half when they focused on survival.

On 17 minutes, Moses almost made it 2-0 when he took advantage of a Rubin defensive error to set up a shooting opportunity, but wasted it with a shot at Ryzhikov. In stoppage time, Chelsea could have scored again, but Ryzhikov was equal to Oscar’s shot.

The match was played in Moscow because UEFA refused Rubin’s request to move the tie to Kazan, citing an unsuitable pitch at the Central Stadium.

It was likely the last European game to be played at Luzhniki before the stadium starts a major refit to prepare for the 2018 World Cup.

Chelsea’s semifinal opponents will be decided in Friday’s draw.

–IANS/RIA Novosti


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