Chelsea 1 Sparta Prague 1, agg; 2-1: match report
Read a full match report from the Europa League last-32 second leg between Chelsea and Sparta Prague at Stamford Bridge on Thursday Feb 21, 2013.
Eden Hazard rescued Chelsea’s credibility and Rafael Benítez’s reputation with a late, late equaliser that denied Sparta Prague a famous victory and averted another tremor of instability at Stamford Bridge.
Given the implications of defeat for club and manager it seemed almost incidental that the Belgian’s goal also booked Chelsea’s place in the last 16 of the Europa League, where they will face Steaua Bucharest.
Hazard’s injury-time goal, a loose-ball driven home left-footed from the edge of the box, averted the prospect of extra-time that, on the evidence of what went before, would have been deeply uncomfortable for the home side.
On a night when Fernando Torres again missed a clutch of clear chances to settle the game, this was not the way it was supposed to be for the Champions of Europe. Squeezing past second-rank opposition in Europe’s B-list competition is not what Roman Abramovich had in mind for this season, and for a while even that was in jeopardy.
Sparta led from the 17th minute to the 92nd, and after David Lafata’s opener cancelled out the 1-0 victory Chelsea earned a week ago in Prague, mutiny again stewed inside Stamford Bridge. Thanks to Hazard, however, the manager can enjoy a little more breathing space.