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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

English Teams Facing European Football Abyss

There may as well be no English team in this year’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. After Arsenal were put to the sword last week by AC Milan, Chelsea suffered the same fate, losing 3-1 away to Napoli meaning that the two clubs will have to pull out a miracle to dismiss their Italian opponents.

With only the two London club representing the premier league in the competition after both Manchester City and Man United were bundled out in group stages, it’s almost given that there will be no English team in the quarterfinals for the first time in 16 years.

Blackburn was the only Premier League representative in the 1995-96 season and finished last in a group that had Spartak Moscow, Legia Warsaw and Rosenborg.

In the Tuesday night encounter, South American duo Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani were both on target with Lavezzi scoring twice either side of Cavani’s shouldered goal as the Italians piled more misery on Chelsea and more so on under fire boss Andre Villas Boas.

The home team started the brightest and were only denied by the defensively exposed Petr Cech who was the busiest of the goalkeepers thanks partly to the absence of John Terry. But frailties in the rearguard were commonplace to both teams and Napoli were the first to be punished.

Captain Paolo Cannavaro was fortunate enough to receive a pass from Daniel Sturridge just after the quarter hour mark. He tried to clear the ball at the edge of the box, but misskicked it into the path of Juan Mata who easily beat De Sanctis in Napoli goal to silence the otherwise raucous home fans.

It didn’t take long though for the Italian Blues (Partenopei) to draw level. Cavani who was proving unplayable found Lavezzi on the edge of the penalty area.  The Argentine easily shrugged off the challenge of Meireles before releasing a beauty of a curling shot past Cech to draw it level.

It soon became 2-1 to Walter Mazzarri’s charges. Gokhan Inler hit a lovely cross from the right towards the far left corner. Chelsea’s Ivanovic and new signing Gary Cahill rushed for the ball and so did Cavani but it’s the Uruguayan who connected with the cross using his shoulder to extend his team’s lead going into the interval.

The story of the second half was skinny as far as goals are concerned. But there was one more goal to come. David Luiz’s costly flamboyance which has been mentioned across the press and criticized by many pundits was at play. The Brazilian found himself in a good position to clear the ball inside his penalty area. However, he let elegance get the best of him when instead of hoofing the ball to safety, he decided to flick it and Cavani robbed him possession, crossed to Lavezzi who made it 3-1.

Chelsea manager Villas Boas tried to add some ammunition to his frontline by bringing in the surprisingly benched duo Frank Lampard and Michael Essien but the game was already lost.

The defeat means Chelsea face an uphill task to qualify for the quarterfinals but it also did the least of favours to coach Villas Boas whose job is hanging by a thread. It’s uncertain whether he’ll still be in charge when Napoli visit Stamford Bridge on March 13.

In another match Tuesday night, Cristiano Ronaldo put Real Madrid ahead against CSKA Moscow in the 28th minute but Pontus Wernbloom scored an injury time equalizer for the hosts to secure a 1-1 draw heading into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With Arsenal facing the seemingly impossible task of overturning a four goal deficit against Milan at Emirates on March 6, Chelsea’s task looks even harder going by their recent form which has seen them fail to win in five straight matches in all competitions, including against Championship side Birmingham.

They say everything is possible in football but I can’t see Chelsea or Arsenal churning out something special to eclipse their opponents in the return leg.

Well, it’s been 16 years since an English team failed to make it past the knockout stages. I bet on my last dime that by the time Arsenal welcome Milan at the Emirates on March 6 and Chelsea face Napoli at Stamford Bridge a week later, that record won’t be standing no more.

It’s been an extremely poor campaign for English teams in this season’s UEFA Champions League. Let’s hope they will come back better and stronger in the season next. 

Come’on Liverpool. Get in there! You do it better than them.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!