Fernando Torres’s goal 19 minutes from time proved decisive in taking Chelsea through to the Europa League quarterfinals after a 3-1 victory over Steaua Bucharest gave them a 3-2 aggregate win on Thursday.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Romania last week, Juan Mata’s strike briefly leveled the tie up. But right before halftime, Vlad Chirches struck an away goal that left the home side needing to score twice more to progress.
Playing with more vigor after the break, Chelsea accomplished their task with John Terry making it 2-1 on the night before Torres struck the winner. The result could have been made more comfortable, but Torres struck a late penalty against the woodwork.
The Blues will now eagerly wait to learn the identity of their opponents in the last eight when the draw is made on Friday.
Chelsea struggled offensively in the first leg and, despite the trio of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard being reunited here, Steaua were again largely able to keep the opposition quiet early on.
But it was some fine play from the Spaniard that finally provided Chelsea’s first goal of the night 34 minutes into the second leg.
Mata dribbled forward before laying the ball off to Ramires who beat a man before returning the ball to the Spaniard to turn a defender in the box and hit a scuffed right-footed effort that came off the goalkeeper but just had enough on it to travel into the net.
The lead would last just over 10 minutes, though, as Steaua took advantage of some slack Chelsea defending to get what could have been a vital away goal.
In the last of a succession of corners at the end of the half, a near-post delivery failed to be cleared and, after the ball struck Torres, Petr Cech repelled one effort with his legs before Chirches slammed the ball high into the net
It was some even worse defending by Steaua from a set piece that allowed Chelsea to level things back up on aggregate just before the hour mark. Terry was inexcusably allowed to run unchecked toward the near post and meet Mata’s in-swinging free-kick with a thumping header low past Ciprian Tatarusanu.
Minutes later, Steaua almost went back ahead on aggregate as Cech had to be alert to parry away Chipciu’s effort from the edge of the box.
With the match entering the final 20 minutes it was Chelsea that came up with a piece of quality to secure their progress. Eden Hazard dummied Mata’s pass to allow Torres to get on the end of it and the striker showed his quality of old to get half a yard of space on a defender before shooting left footed back past the goalkeeper.
The confidence Torres should have taken from that goal will have been dented somewhat, though, as he struck a penalty onto the cross bar after Mata had been fouled in the box by Alexandru Bourceanu.
But it was not to matter as Steaua never looked capable of striking back to upset the Champions League holders.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.