Chelsea 0 – 1 Inter Milan (agg 1 – 3)
By Phil McNulty
BBC Sport at Stamford Bridge
Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge in triumph as Inter Milan sent Chelsea crashing out of the Champions League.
Samuel Eto’s clinical strike 11 minutes from time settled a scrappy encounter and sealed a place in the quarter-finals for Mourinho at the expense of the club he left in 2007 after a hugely successful reign at Chelsea.
And the misery for Chelsea and coach Carlo Ancelotti was complete when Didier Drogba was sent off in the closing minutes after a penalty area clash with Thiago Motta.
Mourinho’s Inter were able to keep a subdued Chelsea at arm’s length for the duration of a scrappy encounter littered with fouls and spells of ill-feeling, with even the self-appointed “Special One” being targeted for abuse by the supporters who once idolised him as frustration spread around Stamford Bridge in the dying moments.
He celebrated in relatively muted fashion when Eto’o capped a spell of Inter pressure with the crucial goal, after Diego Milito had missed the chance to seal Chelsea’s fate even earlier.
Chelsea had their moments in a frantic first half, with Michael Ballack shooting just wide and Nicolas Anelka seeing a close-range effort cleared off the line by Motta, while keeper Julio Cesar saved well from Florent Malouda after the break.
And Chelsea were also left claiming they were victims of a clear injustice in the first half when Drogba was clearly dragged to the ground by Walter Samuel as they wrestled to reach a corner.
This apart, Inter were able to restrict Chelsea, who failed to show the required wit and guile, demonstrating the defensive discipline and resilience that is the trademark of any Mourinho team.
He did not milk Inter’s win at the final whistle, but Mourinho may just appreciate the irony of the fact that he has ended Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s dream of bringing the Champions League to Stamford Bridge.
For Ancelotti and Chelsea, the task is now to regroup and set their sights on the Premier League and the FA Cup.
Mourinho stated his attacking intent with the presence of Goran Pandev, Milito and Eto’o – but after a positive start the game soon descended into a predictable war of attrition.
Chelsea’s Ballack posted the first moment of danger, but he dragged his shot low and wide past Julio Cesar’s upright from the edge of the area. Drogba was also denied by a defiant block from Maicon as he closed in on goal.
Mourinho won two league titles in three full seasons at Chelsea
Inter knew that vital away goal would leave Chelsea with a huge task, and Eto’o wasted a wonderful opportunity to provide it for them after 33 minutes. Maicon’s cross deceived John Terry, but Eto’o appeared surprised at getting the chance and directed a poor header down and well over the bar.
In a frantic finale to the first 45 minutes, Walter Samuel threw himself in front of Malouda as he drove into the box, while Motta rescued Inter with a goalline clearance as Anelka forced a shot beyond Julio Cesar.
The tension was robbing the game of any quality and also resulted in plenty of short tempers. And Chelsea were particularly infuriated when referee Wolfgang Stark ignored penalty appeals as Drogba was clearly dragged to the ground by Samuel as the grappled to reach a corner.
Both teams left the pitch to a frustrated chorus of jeering at the interval, with Chelsea coach Ray Wilkins clearly angry at the events of the first half.
Mourinho’s body language made it clear he wanted Inter to exploit the areas around Chelsea left-back Yuri Zhirkov, but he twice rescued his side with perfect challenges on Eto’o and Pandev as they closed in on keeper Ross Turnbull.
Malouda brought a fine save from Julio Cesar at his near post, but once again Chelsea were having trouble producing the invention needed to break the deadlock.
Ancelotti responded by sending on Joe Cole just after the hour, but this was only the signal for Inter to create, and waste, their best chance as Milito snatched at his effort with only Ross Turnbull to beat, much to Stamford Bridge’s relief.
Inter had been the more dangerous team after the break, and the killer away goal they had been threatening duly came with 11 minutes left. Sneijder’s pass cut Chelsea apart and Eto’s showed great expertise to guide his finish around Turnbull.
Mourinho indulged in some muted fist-pumping, but the rest of Inter’s backroom staff and players celebrated wildly as Chelsea’s players accepted their Champions League hopes were over for another year.
As time ran out and emotions ran high, Drogba appeared to stand on Motta’s foot and saw red. It was a moment that summed up Chelsea’s miserable night.