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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Chelsea scrambled into the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 2-0 victory over Zico's Fenerbahce that was anything but comfortable, either for the club or for those unfortunate enough to be watching. The continual criticism of their minimalist style of football can be tedious, but you know that something's wrong when the fans of a team on the brink of the last four in Europe are booing and chanting, "We're supposed to be at home!"

You get the feeling that, even if Chelsea won both the League and the European Cup, the home supporters would still find something to beat Avram Grant over the head with. Maybe his failure to get the best out of Shaun Wright-Phillips, or his inability to juggle, perhaps. Still, he's winning games. I have no idea how he's doing it, because his formations are often imbalanced, he buys players that he has no need for, he makes odd substitutions and the key members of his squad are all rumoured to be plotting their escape, but somehow he's dragging this side to the brink of glory.

This was an appalling game for the neutral, even more so if that particular neutral's mobile phone was bouncing off the table all night with updates from the game of the season at Anfield. It will certainly have done nothing for Grant's popularity on the home front. It is, however, a step closer to the holy grail of European success and, though the prospect of a third semi-final meeting between them and Liverpool is enough to send impartial observers into a sweaty, panic attack, Chelsea fans wll relish a second chance at revenge.

They will hope that their latest goalkeeping crisis has allieviated itself by then. Quite why Chelsea are doomed to such awful fortune with the men between the sticks is beyond me, but they just keep getting injured. Petr Cech, newly scarred and looking disturbingly like Ernst Blofeld, was watching from the stands as Carlo Cudicini was withdrawn with a leg injury. The Czech stopper leapt from his seat and vanished into the bowels of the stadium, presumably to console his colleague, but maybe to ask his manager if he could get back in the team with a mouth mask to match his crash helmet. Hilario, the much mocked Portuegese custodian, took to the field to warm, but nervous applause. He's not a highly-rated player, but he came through when his employers needed him, making two excellent saves in the final ten minutes.

It took Fenerbahce that long to put a single shot on target. For 80 minutes they nudged the ball around in front of their deep lines, seemingly unaware that Chelsea's early goal meant that they'd be eliminated at full-time. Their only shots were hapless, long-ranged efforts and they persistently gave possession to their hosts.

Chelsea weren't much better at keeping hold of the ball. Their players have picked up a strange habit of applauding their colleagues for terrible passes. They stick a thumb in the air, produce a wry smile and then clap, when what they really should be doing is shouting, "How on earth do you expect me to reach that, you absolute rotter?" Or words to that effect.

The omens are against Chelsea, but that didn't stop their fans finally waking up and cheering when the full-time whistle blew. This will be their fourth appearance in the semi-finals in the last five years, but they've never got further than that. This performance won't give Rafa Benitez any sleepless nights, but the fact that, once again, Chelsea have trudged to victory with something to spare, will be cause for concern. If the mark of Jose Mourinho's reign was cold, calculated success, how will Avram Grant be remembered? After almost seven months, we are no nearer to an answer. The next six weeks will be critical.