Didier Drogba made a scoring return to ease Chelsea FC's nerves and carry them to a narrow victory against CFR 1907 Cluj as Luiz Felipe Scolari's team advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds.
Drogba, who has missed Chelsea's last three domestic outings through suspension, struck seven minutes after coming off the bench after Yssouf Koné had silenced the Stamford Bridge crowd with a headed equaliser to cancel out Salomon Kalou's opener five minutes before the break. Yet if last season's runners-up suffered some unease at 1-1, FC Girondins de Bordeaux's defeat at AS Roma meant they would have advanced whatever the outcome here and they can now celebrate having maintained their 100 per cent qualifying record in seven group-stage campaigns.
There may have been nothing for CFR to play for in terms of group placings but clearly there was significant motivation in trying to conjure a surprise victory to add to their earlier triumph at Roma. They were bright and alert and frequently had Chelsea on the back foot in the early stages with Alvaro Pereira providing a notable scare when he pounced on José Bosingwa's mistake. He was given time to shoot and Petr Čech was unconvincing as he pushed away the bouncing ball. There was then a sight of goal for Dani, who seized on John Terry's clearing header but fired over. The hosts responded with purpose, though, when Deco's free-kick floated to the far post where Alex was ideally placed to give his team the lead. He applied the classic downward header only to see the ball slam into the ground and bounce over.
Energy and determination
The Romanian champions were not only playing with energy and determination but also displaying some skilful touches and when Juan Culio worked his magic down the right, Chelsea came under pressure again. Hugo Alcantara met the deep cross but the blue shirts just managed to bundle the ball away. Yet Scolari's charges then enjoyed a period of pressure at the other end, with Joe Cole planting his shot the wrong side of an upright. Kalou's attempt soon after was deflected over but five minutes before the break he was on hand to gather Deco's free-kick and slam in.
End to end
The game restarted with the same urgency. Joe Cole made ground down the right and got in a shot. A fine move featuring Deco and Kalou then ended with Claro making a good block at Nicolas Anelka's feet. Yet remarkably, ten minutes after the restart, CFR went to the other end and equalised, Koné peeling away at the far post to steer in his header after Culio had brilliantly created space and allowed Cristian Panin to shape an immaculate cross. Within two minutes Deco picked out Joe Cole free in the area but Claro was there again to shut out the daylight. Drogba came on for Kalou in the 64th minute, however, and wasted little time in making his mark. John Mikel Obi released Joe Cole who applied a deft chip into the area where Drogba controlled the ball on the tip of his boot before placing it beneath Claro for his first European goal since April.