Local team Steaua Bucharest have won the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie with Chelsea. It wasn’t the most beautiful game of football and the Premier League stars put in a truly lackluster performance. But Steaua played a positive attacking game and could perhaps be slightly disappointed that they go into the second leg at Stamford Bridge only 1 – 0 ahead. Nonetheless, they were deserving winners, delighting the packed National Arena, which recorded a record breaking 55,000 attendance. The home fans supported Steaua all the way, roaring on the reds every time they went forward.
Steaua made the more positive start, seeing more of the ball than Chelsea and winning a few corners in the first ten minutes. There was a have-a-go shot well over the target, however, Chelsea were never in much danger.
Chelsea continued to soak up the pressure and soon got themselves more settled, winning more possession and getting the ball up to Spanish striker Fernando Torres. The visitors stepped up the pressure and the referee gave Chelsea several free kicks, John Terry took the most promising from a dangerous right wing position, but Steaua defended well and the threat from the subsequent corner was no problem for the Bucharest team’s keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu. The record breaking home crowd were pretty vocal in passing their opinion on the free kicks – a chorus of boos and a number of spectators shining laser pens at the Chelsea players
The action remained slow and despite the nigh on 55,000 home supporters, there was little for either side to cheer. But just after the half hour mark, Steaua forward Raul Rusescu was brought down and a penalty awarded. He stepped up and took the spot kick himself and although the Chelsea keeper went the right way, Rusescu’s effort was too good and the home team went ahead 1 – 0 in the 34th minute.
Chelsea tried to respond and over the next five minutes had two shots on target, including an excellent volley from Torres. But Tatarusanu was there each time and the corner resulting from the Torres shot caused no problems for Steaua. The home team kept possession well for the rest of the half. It wasn’t the most thrilling 45 minutes of football and Raul Rusescu’s penalty was the first shot on target, but Steaua came out ahead, which against a team of Chelsea’s caliber, was clearly an achievement.
Chelsea came out at the beginning of the second half looking hungry for action, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres both threatened, but between solid Steaua defending and Tatarusanu’s safe hands, the Bucharest team soaked up the pressure. It wasn’t long before Steaua were on the attack again, Cristian Tanase and Alexsandru Chipciu tested the Chelsea defence and every time Steaua went forward the National Arena erupted, as 55,000 Romanians cheered on their team.
Chelsea were beginning to look a little lost, all the more surprising given their status as Champions League winners and their record of 44 goals scored in their last 22 European appearances. Torres was clear but passed back to nothing instead of going for the shot. Juan Mata came on for Chelsea in the 64th minute, replacing Yossi Benayoun, who’d had a quiet hour in only his second start for Chelsea this season. But despite Spanish star Mata’s efforts, he was unable to making a telling impact.
As the game went into the last 15 minutes, Chelsea were still looking uninspired, even if Steaua were perhaps showing a little less ambition. With just over five minutes to go, Chelsea won a free kick from a promising position. David Luiz had a go, but the ball didn’t dip enough, going safely over the crossbar. It should have been a desperate last few minutes for Steaua, but despite Chelsea’s efforts the shots went wide and the efforts did not trouble the home team anywhere near as much as the should have done. With four minutes of injury time, it was Steaua that threatened more, winning a corner to rapturous cheers and Florin Gardos, who had replaced goalscorer Rusescu nearly went all the way, but instead of shooting, looked for support.
At the end, delight for the home team and a somewhat sorry and dispirited looking Chelsea. There’s still a long way to go for Steaua and they perhaps deserved to have more than a one – nil lead going into the second leg. That said, a great start for the Bucharest side and another clean sheet for Ciprian Tatarusanu means Chelsea do not have an all important away goal.
Steaua will play the return game Chelsea at their home Stamford Bridge stadium on March 14, with a place in the Europa League quarter finals at stake.
photo source: uefa.com