After a thrilling match with goals aplenty at Chelsea’s home ground in London, Stamford Bridge, Steaua’s Europa League campaign is over. Steaua came ever so close, and by scoring an away goal, forced Chelsea to produce some quality to beat them. In the end, Chelsea won 3 – 1 on the night and by 3 – 2 on aggregate, but over the two games, Steaua did not often look outclassed by last year’s Champions League winners. They pushed Chelsea all the way, looked strong and well organized and produced a few moments of real style.
Steaua arrived in London with a 1 – 0 advantage over Chelsea and the Bucharest team looked undaunted when the action got underway at Stamford Bridge. Looking bright and confident, Steaua saw plenty of the ball and it wasn’t just exuberance on their part – some clever midfield play, patient build ups and when necessary, solid defending.
The Bucharest team also had the best early chance for a goal, Raul Rusescu lost Chelsea’s John Terry and it was only a brilliant stop by Petr Cech at full stretch that denied Steaua a goal.
As the first half wore on Chelsea started to work themselves into the game, controlling possession more and showing a little more zip in the Steaua half. Then 33 minutes in, after a spell of disciplined and well organized pressure from Chelsea, Juan Mata found himself clear right in front of the Steaua goal and with a little good fortune popped the ball between the Bucharest keeper’s legs. The goal lifted Chelsea’s spirits and they looked sharper for the rest of the first half.
However, the drama wasn’t over and in the dying moments of the first 45 minutes, Poparadu nicked the ball via a careless slip by Chelsea’s Luiz. It took some some stern defending by Ashley Cole to get the ball safe, but Chelsea conceded a corner. First one then a second Steaua corner was knocked behind by Chelsea, then, on their third attempt and after chaos and confusion in the box, Steaua’s Vlad Chiriches bundled the ball into the back of the net. The half time whistle went straight away, putting Steaua 2 – 1 up on aggregate and, because of the away goal, leaving Chelsea needing two more goals to deny the Bucharest team a place in the Europa League quarter finals.
As the second half got underway, it was again Steaua that looked the livelier of the two teams. Positive attacking play with perhaps the best chance falling to Alexandru Bourceanu on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area. The ball dropped a little awkwardly and Bourceanu was unable to control the shot.
But home team were never out of it and in the 58th minute captain John Terry headed home a perfectly weighted free kick to put Chelsea 2 – 1 up on the night (in picture). The goal ushered in some frenetic end to end football, more chances for Chelsea and Steaua’s Chipciu fired off a fine shot that keeper Petr Cech kept out with rather a messy looking save.
There was a sense of urgency to Chelsea’s play, with the home team needing another goal to go through they threatened, constantly probing the Steaua defence. The break for Chelsea came a little after 70 minutes when a clever set up by Mata and Hazard allowed Fernando Torres to slip through and score a skillful cool-headed goal.
Steaua struggled to compose themselves and contain a newly confident Chelsea. Perhaps for the first time of the two legs, the Bucharest team looked a little outclassed. But Steaua had come too far to give up and as the game moved into the last 15 minutes Steaua were looking for a way through the Chelsea defence, albeit without much success.
It looked like curtains for Steaua’s chances five minutes from the end when Eden Hazard’s skillful touch drew a rash tackle Bourceanu and gave Chelsea a penalty. Fernando Torres took it and could have put the match out of Steaua’s reach, but the Spanish striker slammed the ball into the crossbar, giving the Bucharest team something to chase in the closing minutes.
But despite Steaua’s courageous efforts right up to the final whistle, there was no fairytale finish and after around four minutes of injury time, the referee blew the whistle on Steaua’s Europa League campaign. They have had a great run and their quality against Chelsea proves that felling Ajax was no fluke. Throughout the season, Steaua have made themselves a very difficult team to beat, as their position well clear at the top of the Romanian league shows.
Liam Lever, firstname.lastname@example.org
photo source: uefa.com