Chelsea 1 - 1 Sparta Prague

Match info: Europa League - Round of 32 at Stamford Bridge

Date: 21/02/2013 KO: 20:05 Ref: A Stavrev Att: 38,642

Home team/scorers Scores Away team/scorers


Eden Hazard 90+2


Sp Prague

David Lafata 17

FT (ht: 0-1)

  • Last Updated: February 21 2013, 23:35 GMT

Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez defended misfiring striker Fernando Torres after his side squeezed into the last-16 of the Europa League tonight.

Chelsea celebrate Hazard's late equalising goal
Chelsea celebrate Hazard's late equalising goal

Substitute Eden Hazard saved the Blues from extra time with a stunning last-gasp strike to snatch a 1-1 draw that was enough to eventually see off Sparta Prague's persistence over the two legs.

It could have been far easier for Chelsea, however, but for Torres.

The Spaniard is a world and European champion but displayed little of that pedigree as he wasted at least four clear-cut chances on a night Chelsea dominated possession without displaying a convincing cutting edge.

Most glaringly Torres was off-target twice in the opening 15 minutes, when a more confident striker may have helped ensure the ensuing night of nerves were averted.

Torres has now scored just once in his past 14 games - against League One Brentford - but despite his barren run Benitez claimed he saw enough tonight to convince him the striker was not far from rediscovering his long lost touch in front of goal.

"He didn't play badly tonight," Benitez said.

"You can analyse a striker for the number of goals he scores. Maybe you're right. But he did a great job for the team tonight.

"It's not easy against a team playing deep, but he was winning the ball in the air, bringing options for those around him.

"I thought he was playing well. I disagree he was playing badly. But of course we want him to take the chances that come his way.

"If he continues working like today and playing like he did today, he will score goals. I'm convinced about that."

Benitez did concede Torres' poor form in front of goal - which has returned following the arrival of Demba Ba in the transfer window - was a frustration.

But he pointed to the fact Torres was finding himself in dangerous positions as reason for his optimism.

"We could be talking about Fernando not scoring goals, and he had four chances. But he had four chances," he said.

"Let's turn it into a positive. I've seen him in games not having these chances because he's not in the right position.

"Today the goalkeeper stopped him and he missed some. It wasn't the situation where the striker disappeared.

"Are we disappointed he didn't score? Yes, we are. But he was still giving his all to the team."

Torres' early misses were brought into focus when Sparta levelled the tie as David Lafata converted from a counter-attack in the 17th minute.

The away side, spurred on by a vocal travelling support, retained their threat on the break throughout and had their own chances late on to settle the tie.

"We knew that it could be like this (defending counter-attacks) and we knew what we had to do," Benitez said.

"We didn't do well in one or two situations, and it's something we have to improve. We have to keep working."

In the end it was Hazard's craft that broke down the hard-working Czechs with the final kick and booked a last-16 tie with Steaua Bucharest.

The Belgian, who replaced Oscar after 67 minutes, dropped his shoulder to beat a defender before blasting a stunning drive that the impressive Tomas Vaclik was unable to keep out.

"Hazard has quality and ability and we knew he could make the difference in the end," said Benitez, who saw his side improve after Hazard's arrival.

"It was not easy to pick anyone to come off. We decided Oscar because Victor (Moses) could give us width on the right and Hazard on the left.

"They were playing deep, so we wanted to stretch them.

"But we did well. We had 22 attempts and clear chances. We didn't score until the end, but we had 60 per cent of the possession and did well.

"We made two or three mistakes and gave them opportunities to counter, but we still did enough to deserve to go through."

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