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11.04.2007 Football News

Essien strike puts Chelsea into semis

By reuters
Essien strike puts Chelsea into semis

Chelsea went through to the Champions League semifinals for the third time in four seasons after a dramatic last-gasp strike from Michael Essien earned them a 2-1 win over Valencia in Spain on Tuesday.

The 3-2 aggregate victory meant Jose Mourinho's team became the first English side to win at the Mestalla in 40 years, emulating Leeds United who won 2-0 there in the Fairs Cup in 1967.

Chelsea looked to be in trouble when Fernando Morientes gave a sharp-looking Valencia the lead 13 minutes before half time when he slid in to steer a Joaquin cross into the net.

But after a stuttering first-half performance, Chelsea came out firing on all cylinders in the second and levelled when striker Andriy Shevchenko squeezed in a close-range shot after an Essien free kick.

The midfielder, who will miss the first leg of the semifinal after picking up an early booking, secured the win when he blasted a shot past Santiago Canizares in the final minute.

The victory almost certainly sets Chelsea up with a rematch of the 2005 semifinal against Liverpool, who enjoy a 3-0 advantage after the first leg of their tie against PSV Eindhoven.

Valencia looked the better of the two sides in the first half as they snapped at the heels of the Chelsea midfield and pinned the Londoners back in their own half.

Chelsea struggled to put any fluent moves together, only creating danger from two isolated corners in the first 20 minutes.

The game appeared to be developing into a disjointed scrap in midfield, but it sparked into life on the half hour when Morientes slammed a thundering shot against the post.

SUPERB CROSS

Two minutes later the former Real Madrid and Liverpool striker gave Valencia the lead.

This time he steered the ball past a helpless Petr Cech after Joaquin had whipped a superb cross in from the right and the Chelsea defence had followed the live-wire David Villa to the near post.

Morientes almost doubled the lead straight from the restart, but Ashley Cole managed to block the striker's close-range volley with Cech beaten.

Canizares produced a top-drawer save at the other end to stop Didier Drogba equalising just before the break, diving to his left to tip the striker's header round the post.

But Chelsea looked a different side after the break and levelled the tie through Shevchenko in the 52nd minute.

The Ukrainian former AC Milan striker took his Champions League tally to 46, firing past Canizares from close range when he snapped up the rebound from a Drogba shot after Essien had clipped a free kick into the area.

Canizares saved Valencia again six minutes from time when he made a stunning reflex save to turn a point-blank header from Michael Ballack over the bar.

But there was nothing the Valencia keeper could do to stop Essien when the Ghanian midfielder popped up in the area on the right in the final minute and battered a shot past him at the near post.

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