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Ranieri thanks his lucky stars

Chelsea FC manager Claudio Ranieri said luck was on his side after a 1-0 win away at AC Sparta Praha.

Vast improvement
The victory gave Chelsea a valuable three points away from home in their first UEFA Champions League Group G game of the season. Ranieri conceded that Chelsea's second-half performance was a vast improvement on the first 45 minutes, as Damien Duff, Frank Lampard and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink replaced Adrian Mutu, Emmanuel Petit and Hernán Crespo respectively.

Crespo needs time
"In the second half I changed the system of my team and we played with two wingers, Duff and Geremi," explained Ranieri. "When they were playing, they created two good chances for Crespo, so I think we deserved to win." The Italian urged fans to be patient with Crespo, whose profligacy in front of goal almost cost the visitors dear. "He is a top player but he isn't yet in a good condition to score goals," Ranieri added.

'Under pressure'
Meanwhile, Sparta coach Jirí Kotrba was disappointed to end his first Champions League match in charge with a defeat. But he paid tribute to Chelsea's improved efforts in the second period, saying: "They were better when Duff and Lampard played and we had some trouble. We lost a lot of possession because we were under pressure from Chelsea so we couldn't play technically or constructively. But I was satisfied with our first half."

'Big pity'
Sparta's best chance came from their dynamic midfield player Radoslav Kovác, who shot wide when in space before seeing his header brilliantly saved by Carlo Cudicini at the end of the first half. "I had a good chance but it ended up going wide," he said ruefully. "It was my first match in the Champions League and it was a great atmosphere here in the stadium. I hoped we could get a point out of this match but we didn't and it's a big pity."

Lampard surprised
Chelsea midfielder Lampard was one of six international players to start the game on the bench as Ranieri continued to rotate his squad. The England international, who was a key player when he did come on, said: "We all respect our coach. All the players understand the situation with so many players in our team. Two hours before the match, we had a tactical meeting; it was there that I saw my name among the substitutes. I was a little disappointed."