Rubin Kazan fought back bravely to claim a 3-2 win against Chelsea in the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal, but couldn’t do enough to prevent the European champions from progressing 5-4 on aggregate.
Fernando Torres and Victor Moses had twice put Chelsea ahead in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium with what looked like tie-clinching strikes. But Rubin kept coming back and goals from Ivan Marcano, Gokdeniz Karadeniz and a penalty from Bebras Natcho in the second half ensured that Chelsea could never truly relax. Salomon Rondon had a chance to tie things up and leave Rubin needing to score just once more to progress on away goals, but that went begging and Chelsea held on to make the semifinals.
After their 3-1 win from the first leg and with an FA Cup semifinal to come against Manchester City on Sunday, Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez left the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and John Mikel Obi on the bench. There was a second appearance for the club for 18-year-old Nathan Ake in midfield, while, at the other end of the age scale, Paulo Ferreira made a rare appearance in place of the injured Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand.
It was the home side that actually had the first opportunity of the contest when after good work by Rondon, Roman Eremenko’s goal-bound effort was well blocked in front of Petr Cech.
It was to be a chance that Rubin would rue not taking as Chelsea broke straight up field to add to their first-leg advantage after just five minutes.
From Lampard’s good early ball over the top looking for the run of Torres, Sergei Ryzhikov made the impetuous decision to race from his goal and out of his area. The Russia international never looked like getting there ahead of the Spaniard and Torres coolly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and watched as it bounced into the back of the unguarded net.
With Kazan barred from playing at their home stadium, the Luzhniki already had a rather flat atmosphere about it but the early goal quieted things to barely a ripple in the sparsely populated cavernous arena.
The action on the pitch followed suit with Chelsea seemingly content to play out time for what appeared an inevitable win, while Rubin struggled to create anything meaningful going forward.
That began to change on the stroke of half time when Gokdeniz got behind the defense but was denied by an excellent low save by Cech.
But the side fourth in Russia’s Premier League were able to carry that impetus into the second half to give themselves hope in the 51st minute.
Chelsea’s struggles to deal with Rubin’s crossing began as, after a short corner, Pablo Orbaiz curled a good ball into the danger zone eight yards out and Marcano rose highest to head powerfully into the bottom corner.
The goal immediately lifted Rubin’s intensity and they went in search of a second goal and were causing Chelsea some problems too.
Yet, within five minutes, just as Rubin were starting to build momentum, Chelsea scored again to seemingly end the tie as a contest once more.
Moses played an incisive one-two with Ramires on the edge of the box and from 12 yards out the Nigerian curled a clinical finish into the far corner. That goal meant Rubin needing to score an improbable four more goals to progress, yet Chelsea were still unable to shut down the game and the hosts soon struck for a second time.
Argentinian left-back Cristian Ansaldi was the creator with a good cross in and Gokdeniz got up too easily above youngster Ake to power a header past Cech.
To their credit, Rubin were displaying admirable belief despite their bleak situation. The chances kept coming with Ansaldi’s deliveries causing plenty of problems in the Chelsea box. Ivan Marcano missed a glorious chance to head home as he directed the ball wide of the far post.
With the few Rubin fans in the stadium now in full voice, Rubin made the tie even more interesting with 15 minutes remaining.
Aleksandr Ryazantsev appeared to go down easily from Cesar Azpilicueta’s clumsy challenge from behind, but the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Natcho promptly stepped up and smashed his penalty high into the net to give Cech no chance and leave Rubin just needing two more goals for a most improbable turnaround.
They really should have squared things up on aggregate as the match entered the final 10 minutes but from another superb Ansaldi cross Rondon headed straight at Cech from the center of the goal just five yards out.
That effectively signaled the end of Rubin’s hopes as they exited with their reputation enhanced, while Chelsea are just one step away from the final of a competition they never expected or wanted to be involved in.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.