Chelsea made things more interesting than they probably needed to be but in the end advanced to the Europa League semifinals, 5-4 on aggregate, after losing to Rubin Kazan on Thursday, 3-2.
Rubin had plenty of chances in the second half due to an incredibly poor effort by Chelsea's back line and surely will lament being forced to play this "home" tie in Moscow after UEFA wouldn't allow the tie to be played in their Tsentralnyi stadium.
Fernando Torres would all but end this tie in the first five minutes. After Frank Lampard played a brilliant pass over the top of the Rubin Kazan defense, Torres lofted his shot over keeper Sergey Ryzhikov, who was way off his line trying to intercept the pass, and the ball bounced just under the bar.
With a 4-1 lead in aggregate and a vital away goal, Chelsea was sitting pretty.
The team would sit pretty compact for the rest of the first half, essentially parking the bus and occasionally pushing forward on the counter-attack.
Rubin had an excellent chance in stoppage time, however, as Bebras Natcho chipped a pass over the the Chelsea defense to Alan Kasaev running down the right side of the box. Petr Cech brilliantly saved his bouncing shot, though, and Chelsea went into the half with a 1-0 lead.
But Rubin struck quickly in the second half and made things interesting, as Ivan Marcano decisively headed home Pablo Orbaiz's service into the box. The Russians were back in the game.
Or were they? Just minutes later, Victor Moses found himself with space in the box after playing a lovely give-and-go with Ramires, and the Nigerian curled his shot past Ryzhikov. Now, Chelsea not only led 5-2 in aggregate, but Rubin would have to win this game by three goals since Chelsea held the advantage in away goals.
Rubin would get one back shortly after, as Gokdeniz Karadeniz headed home another cross to even the game and give the Russians at least the slightest bit of hope.
Chelsea proved to be weak in the air, and Rubin continued to attack aerially, as Marcano nearly beat Cech again with a header minutes later. And Rubin weren't done.
After César Azpilicueta was called for a penalty in the box—a pretty soft penalty, but poor defending nonetheless—Natcho buried the penalty kick and gave Rubin a 3-2 lead. With just 15 minutes remaining, Rubin found themselves with hope, needing two goals to advance.
Rubin again nearly struck from the air, but José Rondón directed his free header into the arms of Cech in the 80th minute.
From there, Chelsea settled down and ran out the remainder of the clock.
It's off to the semifinals for Chelsea, who probably feel a bit relieved to escape this contest despite less than their finest effort.
Fernando Torres, Chelsea: A-
While he wasn't a huge factor in the second half, Torres was unstoppable in the first half. His work rate was excellent, he charged at defenders and created gaps in Rubin's defense, he played excellent passes to his teammates and his goal was a thing of beauty. It was vintage Torres and a reminder of what he is capable of at his best.
Sergey Ryzhikov, Rubin: D+
There was nothing he could do on the Moses goal, but what in the world was Ryzhikov doing coming so far off his line on the Torres goal early in the game? If you come out that far, you absolutely must clear the ball, and Ryzhikov wasn't close to doing so. That mistake put Rubin in the hole early and in hindsight was the difference between Chelsea winning and the game going to overtime.
Chelsea's Back Line: F
The back four of Azpilicueta, John Terry, David Luiz and Paulo Ferreira played miserably in this contest. They were consistently beaten in the air, Azpilicueta was in poor position on the soft penalty call and Rubin had hope in the second half when the game should have been over.
I understand the psychology behind trying to stay focused while holding on to a comfortable lead, but you never expect to see defenders like Terry and Luiz so hapless against crosses into the box. It was a disappointing effort from the defense.
Bebras Natcho, Rubin: B+
He was Rubin's finest player in the match for my money, setting up several Rubin chances and flashing true class with his finish on the penalty. Marcano was brilliant in the air for Rubin, but Natcho seemed to always be in the mix when Rubin pressed forward.
Victor Moses, Chelsea: B+
His finish on the goal was excellent, yes, but Moses was simply too much for Rubin to handle on the wing for much of this game. His size and speed make him difficult to bully off the ball, and he proved it again on Thursday.
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