LONDON - Didier Drogba came off the bench to send Chelsea into the last 16 of the Champions League, his 71st-minute goal securing a 2-1 home victory over stubborn Romanians CFR Cluj in their final Group A match on Tuesday. Last season's runners-up went into the game needing victory to guarantee progress. Chelsea went ahead through Salomon Kalou five minutes before halftime but had a nervous spell after Yssouf Kone headed the equaliser 10 minutes after the restart. There was relief all round though when Drogba, on as a 64th-minute substitute, produced a top-class finish from Joe Cole's clever through ball. It is the sixth successive season Chelsea have reached the knockout phase, three times going out in the semi-finals and last year losing in the final to Manchester United on penalties. Cluj, who began their debut campaign with a shock win at AS Roma, were certain to finish last in the group whatever happened on Tuesday. LAST DITCH In a scrappy opening, Chelsea had a scare after 16 minutes when Juan Culio's deep cross was headed goalwards by Hugo Alcantara, forcing John Obi Mikel into a scrambled last-ditch clearance almost on the goalline. Chelsea appeared to miss the influence of Frank Lampard, suspended after his red card in the last game against Girondins Bordeaux. However, the game came alive five minutes before halftime when Deco chipped a free kick into the danger area. Wrestling players from both sides fell to the ground, allowing the ball to go through to the feet of the unmarked Kalou who controlled and swivelled to fire home from six metres. The crowd reaction was more an exaggerated gasp of relief than a mass celebration but the mood changed in the 55th minute when Kone climbed above home defender Alex to thump in a header from Cristian Panin's cross. Chelsea then brought on Drogba for Kalou and it proved an inspired move as the substitute poked the ball under the advancing keeper in the 71st. The Londoners finished second in the group, one point behind AS Roma.
9 December 2008
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