Chelsea overcome Napoli in thriller

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Branislav Ivanovic’s 105th minute winner helped propel Chelsea into the Champions League quarterfinal after scrapping past Napoli following an enthralling evening at Stamford Bridge.

Didier Drogba and John Terry’s headers look set to send the home side through in 90 minutes, but Gorkan Inler’s thunderous hit put Walter Mazzarri’s side back in front in the tie.

Frank Lampard penalty with 15 minutes of normal time remaining force extra time, which saw Ivanovic intervene to keep The Blues’ hopes of claiming a first European Cup alive.

Requiring a low-scoring win by two goals or more, Chelsea’s experienced spine returned from the first leg, as John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien all started, with Napoli’s fearsome strike force, led by Ezequiel Lavezzi who having scored six goals in his last five games was lying in wait to ruin the hosts’ night.

Looking for goals from the off, Daniel Sturridge forced Morgan De Sanctis into an early save, after Terry’s header had flown safely wide.

However, their adventure left them exposed on the counter attack, Marek Hamsik coming close, as the legs of Petr Cech saved his deflected effort.

Edinson Cavani perhaps should have notched that vital away goal and his sliding shot hit only the side netting, before Lavezzi broke free from Ashley Cole’s attention, as Cech was again called into action.

The Czech Republic stopper then had to be at full stretch to deny Marek Hamsik from range as The Blues clung on in the opening half an hour. 

But as the Serie A side continued to spurn opportunities, in the form of Drogba, Chelsea grabbed the decisive first goal on the night.

Ramires’ swinging delivery met the head of the Ivorian, who used the pace of the cross to divert the ball beyond De Sanctis.

Despite taking the lead the chances continued to come Napoli’s way, Cavani the latest player to lack a finishing touch as he dragged his shot wide following a pulsating counter-attack instigated by Hamsik.

After weathering the storm until the break, Chelsea quickly went two-up in the tie as Terry, in just his second game back since knee surgery, flicked home from Juan Mata’s corner. 

It was a lead on away goals that Di Matteo’s side protected for just eight minutes, as Inler unleashed a stinging half volley beyond a motionless Cech. 

Now it was Chelsea’s turn to bite back, now with Fernando Torres in toe, and De Sanctis made two excellent stops to deny Branislav Ivanovic’s drive and Drogba’s half volley following the Serbian’s long throw.

Even in the twilight of the tie the game continued to ebb and flow, and the Azzurri could have settled it as Cech’s parry from Juan Camilo Zuniga’s shot hit Lavezzi before the Argentine could react. 

The reprieve for the Premier League side worked as the perfect antidote for them to draw level as Andrea Dossena handled Ivanovic’s header, leaving another of the old guard, Lampard, to rifle the resulting spot kick into the net..

Either side could won it before extra time, Drogba’s free-kick sailing over the bar, prior to Walter Gargano’s speculative effort striking the top of the net.

The additional 30 minutes provided more of the helter skelter football encountered in the previous 180 minutes, Hamsik’s perfectly timed volley preceding Ivanovic’s header.

But when the Blues defender next cropped up the penalty area, he was to make no mistake, thrashing into the roof of the net after Ramires had fed Drogba.

Ample pressure followed from the visitors but to no avail, as Roman Abramovich’s European dream continues.

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