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12.03.2009 Football News

Essien back in business…As Blues progress

By Kofi Owusu Aduonum - Ghanaian Chronicle

Didier Drogba's fifth goal in six games killed off an unlikely Juventus fightback in Turin but it was the sight of Michael Essien scoring Chelsea's first in the 2-2 draw on the night, sealing a 3-2 aggregate win, that will have warmed the heart of Guus Hiddink as he prepares his side for the Champions League quarter finals.

Making his first start for the club since sustaining a cruciate ligament injury in September, Essien provided the foundation for Chelsea's progression to a fifth quarter final in six years, but they only did so after ten-man Juve had threatened a real shock when Alessandro Del Piero's penalty set up a grandstand finish with 15 minutes remaining, making it 2-2 on aggregate. Protecting a 15-game unbeaten home record in European competitions, former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri saw his side take the lead on 19 minutes when Vincenzo Iaquinta rounded off a superb move with a decisive finish. However, the Bianconeri were unable to keep out Chelsea before the break.

Just a minute after Drogba had been controversially denied a goal when the assistant referee failed to spot his free-kick creep over the line before Gianluigi Buffon grasped the loose ball, Essien tapped home from close range following a deflected free-kick from Frank Lampard that struck the top of the bar.

Juve's challenge looked to be over when Chiellini was shown a second yellow card on 71 minutes but a silly handball from substitute Juliano Belletti allowed Del Piero to level the scores on aggregate from the penalty spot, leaving the ten-man Italians needing to score again in the final 15 minutes due to the away goals ruling.

But it was Chelsea who netted next in Turin and Drogba, continuing his fine run of form, was the man to finally settle the tie as he converted from Belletti's square pass to put his side in the quarter finals.

Following the first leg at Stamford Bridge, legendary Czech playmaker Pavel Nedved announced he will retire at the end of the season and what transpired to be his last European outing was brought to a premature conclusion on 13 minutes. Having earlier received treatment after his head connected with the knee of Essien, the 2003 Ballon d'Or winner injured a rib when battling with Nicolas Anelka and was replaced by Hasan Salihamidzic, ensuring his European career ended with an undeserved whimper

After his exit, a move of sublime quality in a half that had previously been distinctly unremarkable saw Juventus level the scores on aggregate after 19 minutes as Iaquinta struck his second of the Champions League campaign.

Iaquinta started the move with a backheel to strike partner David Trezeguet but the Frenchman outdid his team-mate by controlling and then diverting the ball over his shoulder for a return pass into the path of the Italian, who had driven through Chelsea's static defence.

Facing one of the world's finest goalkeepers in Petr Cech, Iaquinta showed admirable cool when firing the ball across goal and out of the reach of the Chelsea man for an outstanding opener.

The Blues, meanwhile, looked distinctly short of invention and width and their lethargic display was encapsulated perfectly on 42 minutes when Nicolas Anelka completely skewed a volley that rolled towards the opposite touchline. All that was to change on 45 minutes though following a crazy 60-second spell in Turin.

Chelsea were at first infuriated when Gianluigi Buffon appeared to claw a Drogba free-kick from behind the line, against the post and then into his grasp, with the linesman failing to flag for a goal despite replays hinting the ball had crossed the line.

Anger soon turned to elation though as Essien celebrated his return to the team with a goal. A Lampard shot was deflected onto the top of the bar and, with Buffon on the floor, the Ghanaian raced between two Juve defenders to tap in from close range just seconds before half-time.

Juventus suddenly needed to score twice to keep their participation in the competition alive but Chelsea's move to a 4-5-1 formation was constraining the Italian side and, after 60 minutes, in an attempt to inject more creativity they sacrificed the physical presence of Iaquinta for the guile of Sebastian Giovinco.

Juve were offered a glimmer of hope soon after when Cech slid out of his box by the goal-line and handled the ball, earning a yellow card in the process, but when Giovinco latched onto the loose ball following Del Piero's free-kick the youngster hammered his shot well over.

Trezeguet then threatened as he saw a powerful header turned over the bar by Cech before Juve's hopes of a comeback were seemingly ended when Chiellini was shown a second yellow card.

That was not to be the case though as Belletti, on for Essien, blatantly handled when jumping to block a Del Piero free-kick, giving Juve a penalty and sparking fractious scenes as both sets of players clashed.

When the chaos died down, Del Piero was the very model of calm as he simply rolled the ball to the side of Cech, setting up a tense and terse conclusion in Turin.

Hiddink's 100 percent record as Blues boss was subsequently brought to an end but his golden run continues.