By Trevor Haylett in London
Chelsea FC manager Claudio Ranieri believes "English fighting spirit" helped his multinational team come from behind to beat S.S. Lazio 2-1 and move to the top of UEFA Champions League Group G.
It was a crucial victory in the light of Chelsea's surprise home defeat by Besiktas JK three weeks ago. Yet when the Italian side took the lead near the end of the first half another disappointment beckoned for the London team reconstructed by Roman Abramovich's huge wealth. Thrilling goals from Frank Lampard and Adrian Mutu changed the course of events and it is Chelsea who now have control of the section as they look forward to the return game against these opponents in Italy on 4 November.
A thrilled Ranieri said: "
We have got Italian experience, Spanish experience and English fighting spirit," he said. "We deserved to be ahead at half-time and I said to the players just to continue playing the same way." Lampard nearly equalised on the stroke of half-time when he hit the crossbar, and a similarly searing shot levelled the scores on 57 minutes.
'A great striker'
Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen made that goal, and said: "I saw Lamps open outside the box and I tried to pass it to him so he could hit it first time. That is what he did so it was my goal really! It was a great strike and it needed something special to get us back into it. In the end it became more of a hard-working performance than anything else."
'Important to win'
Ranieri said that the difference between this display and the one against Besiktas was that "Lazio came here to try and score whereas Besiktas never tried to score". He went on: "It was important to beat Lazio because they are a very good team and it will be important to win the return." He can take a share of the credit because his decision to introduce Jesper Grønkjær in the 64th minute paid immediate dividends as the Danish winger crossed for Mutu to finish at the second attempt.
Roberto Mancini's team held up well early on when Chelsea attacked with aggressive intent, Juan Sebastián Verón and Duff both heavily involved. Again the ability of Italian defences to soak up pressure had to be admired as was the way Lazio constructed their goal. Massimo Oddo's crossing ability is an important feature of their counterattacking strategy and when he dropped a high ball on to the far post Dejan Stankovic nodded it into the heart of the goalmouth where Simone Inzaghi swooped to head over the line.
'Fate in our hands'
Having wrested the advantage, Mancini was left disappointed by his side's failure to build on it, as they dropped to third in the group, two points behind Chelsea. "
When we went 1-0 ahead we needed to keep a calm head but we are conceding too many goals in this fashion," he said. "We are upset to lose but the group is still open and our fate is in our hands. There are three games to go and I still believe that nine points will be enough for us to qualify."
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