Ballack helps Chelsea into semifinal

Michael Ballack put Chelsea on course for another Champions League semifinal collision with Liverpool as his goal set up a 2-0 win over Fenerbahce in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, second leg.

Ballack’s first-half header was followed by a late Frank Lampard strike at Stamford Bridge to send Avram Grant’s side through 3-2 on aggregate.

Chelsea had to survive a nervous finale that saw substitute goalkeeper Hilario make two superb saves to keep his side ahead, but now they will face European nemesis Liverpool in the semifinals for the third time in four seasons.

Rafa Benitez’s team have got the better of the Blues in both previous encounters, with bitter memories of Luis Garcia’s ”phantom” goal at Anfield in 2005 still a constant source of anguish at the Bridge.

Last season’s penalty shoot-out exit on Merseyside was equally painful but Chelsea at least have the advantage of hosting the second leg this time.

After their second-half meltdown in Istanbul last week, Chelsea’s hopes of reaching the last four were hanging by a thread. Grant had insisted he wasn’t having sleepless nights worrying about the match, but he would hardly have been reassured by Chelsea’s record of only overturning a first-leg deficit once in the Champions League.

Chelsea left Turkey nursing a sense of injustice at losing after dominating for so long and it was clear they were determined to put the record straight.

Grant’s side tore into Fenerbahce, taking the lead in only the fourth minute. Lampard’s free kick was curled into the near post and Ballack cleverly found space to glance his header past Volkan Demirel.

That changed the complexion of the tie. Now Fenerbahce had to score but it was Chelsea who were close to a second goal five minutes later.

Salomon Kalou surged to the touchline and whipped a low cross to Joe Cole, who flicked the ball against a post from close range. Then Ballack forced a sprawling save from Demirel.

This was Chelsea at their imposing best. Fenerbahce weren’t allowed a second on the ball and Didier Drogba took advantage of Kalou’s pressing to curl his shot just over.

But Grant’s perfect start took a turn for the worse when Italian goalkeeper Cudicini was forced off with a hamstring injury.

His replacement, Hilario, hadn’t played since January so it was no surprise to see Semih Senturk try his luck with a long-range effort that skimmed wide.

Chelsea’s back-four were suddenly unsettled. When they left Lugano unmarked at Alex’s free kick, the defender should have scored, but his header didn’t even test Hilario.

Grant was able to restore Chelsea’s composure at half-time and Drogba tested Demirel with a lunging volley soon after the break.

The Turkish champions found it hard to add a cutting edge to their unstinting work rate, so Zico sent on former Chelsea forward Mateja Kezman.

Drogba forced a fine stop from Demirel with a free kick midway through the half, but Fenerbahce were about to throw caution to the wind.

Hilario has been a fringe figure during his time at Chelsea, but they will forever be the Portuguese’s debt for two stunning saves in the last 10 minutes. First he stretched to keep out Gokhan Gonul’s volley, then leapt to his right to deny Colin Kazim-Richards.

Essien got a booking that will rule him out of the semifinal first leg. But as Fenerbahce pressed desperately, Lampard put the result beyond doubt with a close-range strike in the 87th minute from Essien’s cross. — Sapa-AFP

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Steve Griffiths
Guest Author

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