Werder Bremen's Per Mertesacker ensured a gripping conclusion to UEFA Champions League Group A with the only goal of an entertaining contest against Chelsea FC, who nevertheless progressed to the first knockout round.
The German international defender's first-half header proved enough to beat the English champions and set up an intriguing pair of fixtures on Matchday 6. Chelsea and Bremen both have ten points, with the English side top of the section by virtue of their head-to-head record against Bremen and guaranteed a place in the last 16, with bottom team PFC Levski Sofia their final-day opponents. Their German rivals will advance too should they avoid defeat in the Camp Nou against FC Barcelona, who must win to maintain their hold on the trophy.
Both clubs showed their intentions early on. Bremen created the first opening seconds after the kick-off when Daniel Jensen released Hugo Almeida but John Terry arrived in time to make an important clearance. However, the visitors subsequently gained the upper hand, Didier Drogba providing the opportunity for Michael Essien to fire wide before another midfielder, John Obi Mikel, spurned an even better chance, heading wastefully over after Terry had nodded a long ball from Geremi into his path.
Bremen refused to be cowed and continued to make situations of their own. Clemens Fritz did well on the right before feeding the ball to Diego who forced Carlo Cudicini into his first save of the evening from the edge of the area. The Brazilian playmaker then demonstrated his passing skills by freeing Hugo Almeida but the striker shot wide. The Bundesliga outfit had looked particularly threatening from set-pieces, and it was little surprise the opening goal came from that source in the 27th minute, Mertesacker escaping Drogba to meet Torsten Frings's corner with a powerful downward header that gave Cudicini no chance.
Michael Ballack had the opportunity to mark his first club return to Germany since leaving FC Bayern München with an equaliser, but Tim Wiese proved his equal to preserve Bremen's half-time advantage. Frings tested Cudicini with a free-kick five minutes after the restart although unsurprisingly Chelsea soon found a response, Drogba exchanging passes with Joe Cole only for the striker's effort to be blocked by a timely intervention from Naldo.
Just short of the hour José Mourinho attempted to reinvigorate his side, replacing Mikel and the limping Drogba with Arjen Robben and Andriy Shevchenko. The attacking changes almost paid off immediately. The Ukrainian international picked up a loose ball after Bremen had conceded possession in midfield, but his forward surge was thwarted by the strong Mertesacker. Wiese was next to frustrate Shevchenko, diving to his left to palm away a free-kick from just outside the box.
As time ticked away Bremen seemed content to protect their slender lead while the visitors continued to press and almost conjured an equaliser 15 minutes from the end. Joe Cole cut in from the right and unleashed a left-footed shot but once again Wiese was equal to the task. The final whistle duly brought a huge sigh of relief from the Weserstadion crowd.