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Solid Sparta keep hopes alive

Chelsea FC 0-0 AC Sparta Praha Chelsea are through, but Sparta show discipline to stay in the running in Group G.

By Trevor Haylett at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea FC crept into the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League but they were frustrated by an AC Sparta Praha side who withstood the pressure to take a point which keeps them in contention in Group G.

Strong defence
The home side attacked constantly, went close on several occasions and even had a goal disallowed, but Tomáš Hübschman held the Sparta defence together well. Although it seemed at one stage they were heading out when Besiktas JK led at S.S. Lazio, the Romans equalised and the Czech champions can still go through if they beat the Serie A contenders on 9 December.

Cole in
Claude Makelele's neck problem had eased and he took his place in a lineup showing two changes from the side that won 4-0 at Lazio on Matchday 4. Juan Sebastián Verón was still troubled by a back injury, giving Joe Cole his first Champions League start, and Mario Melchiot was in for suspended right-back Glen Johnson. Petr Johana was also suspended for the visitors, so Jirí Homola stepped into the defence, while Rastislav Michalík was in for Marek Kincl, meaning Libor Sionko was used as a lone striker.

Initial forays
The home side looked lively at the start with the ceaseless movement of Adrian Mutu a feature of their initial forays. Hernán Crespo raised their hopes when he brilliantly controlled Frank Lampard's long forward pass, but as three defenders closed in he finally ran out of room. Lukáš Zelenka and Karel Poborský were giving some supply to Sionko, however.

Goal disallowed
Pavel Krmaš shot over for the visitors but mostly the ball was found in the other half of the field where Cole and Damien Duff were always lively. In the 27th minute Chelsea had the ball in the net moments after Hernán Crespo headed against the bar from Duff's careful cross. Mutu was first to the rebound and squared to Crespo to convert, but he was ruled offside.

Sionko chances
As the half ended Lampard was wide with a side-footer and Cole demanded a plunging stop from Jaromír Blazek. At the other end, Sionko produced a header and then a shot which both flew too high.

Crespo close
Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri had shown his frustration, but Crespo almost put him in a better frame of mind immediately after the break when he found the ball at his feet after Mutu and then Duff had led the charge. His clever back-heel slipped wide. Sparta regularly had ten men back in defensive positions and they were hard to break down. When a corner was headed out Makelele unleashed a volley and Blazek was grateful to see it pass the wrong side of his upright.

Zelenka danger
The tie remained tantalisingly poised with Sparta's defending becoming more and more desperate, but at the same time Zelenka's ability to bring concern to Chelsea's back line was obvious. In the 69th minute Krmaš received the ball in good position from a free-kick but his over-the-shoulder attempt did not trouble Carlo Cudicini unduly.

Late miss
Clear goalscoring chances were few and far between for Ranieri's team as Sparta strung two solid banks of defenders in front of Blazek. With eight minutes remaining William Gallas flicked the ball on to a post and in added time Mutu missed when through on goal. Chelsea still need a point against Besiktas on Matchday 6 to win the group.