By Mark Bennett at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion
An early Fernando Meira own goal condemned VfB Stuttgart to a narrow home defeat in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie against Chelsea FC.
The defender arrived to clear a Glen Johnson cross ahead of the waiting Hernán Crespo in the 12th minute, but instead of pushing the ball to safety he stabbed it past Timo Hildebrand. Despite constant pressure from the home side, Carlo Cudicini pulled off several fine saves to keep Chelsea in front.
They may have been in their first Champions League knockout fixture, but Stuttgart began with confidence and with five minutes played Meira found Kevin Kuranyi on the edge of the area. The German international chested the ball down for Silvio Meissner whose shot sailed over the bar. Two minutes later Meissner was left unmarked in the penalty area after a pass from Andreas Hinkel. He shot quickly but was denied a goal by a brilliant reflex save from Cudicini.
Meira own goal
Chelsea's passing lacked accuracy in the opening minutes and Stuttgart gladly accepted the chance to push players forward. It was the visiting team which struck first, though. Johnson made a good run down the right, sent a cross in for Hernán Crespo which Meira attempted to intercept but only succeeding in turning beyond Hildebrand.
Stuttgart needed a few minutes to recover from the shock, but nearly got an equaliser on 19 minutes. Once again Meissner was left unmarked to head a Horst Heldt corner towards goal. With Cudicini beaten Wayne Bridge was standing in exactly the right place to clear the ball off the line.
After being under heavy pressure for the first half-hour, Chelsea were able gradually to close the game down towards the end of the opening 45 minutes. Crespo found Eidur Gudjohnsen for the visitors' second good chance of the half in the 34th minute. The Icelandic international striker could only shoot over.
When Stuttgart returned to the field Felix Magath replaced Meissner with Christian Tiffert. The home side needed a few minutes to get going before again finding their rhythm. Meira nearly bounced back from scoring at the wrong end by equalising with a vicious free-kick which went just wide. Substitute Tiffert tested Cudicini soon after, yet the Italian goalkeeper safely gathered his shot.
With 65 minutes played Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri replaced Jesper Grønkjær with Damien Duff for his first appearance of 2004 after injury. Philipp Lahm then penetrated the Chelsea defence but opted to pass rather than shoot and the danger passed.
Chelsea hold on
Stuttgart could not be accused of a lack of effort in the final stages, but as time ticked on the hosts looked more desperate and their passing was more urgent than accurate. Chelsea, in contrast, could afford to calmly sit back and wait for the final whistle, leaving the German side with a mighty task in London on 9 March.
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