Football: On an evening of high drama at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea left it late to make it through to the last 16 of the Uefa Europa League. Substitute Eden Hazard scored a thrilling goal deep in stoppage time as Chelsea saw off the challenge of Sparta Prague.
The side from the Czech Republic had taken a lead in the match, leaving the tie tightly poised. It looked like it would go to extra time before the Belgian playmaker drew his side level on the evening, and put them through on aggregate.
"I was a little bit disappointed during the game because we had so many chances but, in the end, we deserved to score,” said Rafael Benitez, the interim manager.
“We had 60 per cent of possession, 22 attempts. We knew they were a good team, it was difficult to stop them sometimes but we were doing a great job pushing and defending."
The visitors absorbed the early pressure from Chelsea before taking a shock lead on 17 minutes through David Lafata. The goal owed much to the opportunism of the Czech side who, after taking a quick free kick, opened up Chelsea’s back-line. Vaclav Kadlec collected a pass from captain Marek Matejovsky before pulling the ball inside to Lafata, who slammed it into the roof the net.
Midfielder Tomas Prikryl nearly added to the margin on 29 minutes, but Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was able to save well.
Chelsea nearly scored immediately after the interval when Oscar, who scored the late winner in the first leg last week, burst through the visitors’ midfield. He played in compatriot Ramires, who thumped his shot against the post. Moments later, Fernando Torres broke through, but goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik read his intentions and made a confident save.
The Spanish striker, who led the line in the absence of the cup-tied Demba Ba, squandered a series of chances in the first half. After the break, it was Torres, along with John Terry and Victor Moses who tested Sparta’s defensive capabilities.
The second half was dominated by Benitez’s men, but the Czech side defended well and easily saw off the Chelsea forward line.
However, two minutes into injury time, Hazard raced through into the penalty area before cutting onto his left foot and firing an unstoppable shot past Vaclik from 15 yards.
Chelsea, who will face Steaua Bucharest in the next round, travel to Manchester City on Sunday looking to reinforce their claims for a top-four finish.