St Gallen conquer giants of Chelsea
The Swiss football champions St Gallen have recorded an historic UEFA Cup victory over the English club Chelsea.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in London, the Swiss side beat their wealthy opponents 2-0 on Thursday to secure a highly unexpected place in the cup's second round.
After opting for a defensive strategy during the away leg, St Gallen manager Marcel Koller reverted to his traditional two-man attack for the return leg in Zurich, bringing Romanian striker Ionel Gane into the attack alongside top-scorer Charles Amoah.
It was Gane who had the first chance of the match as St Gallen made a bright start. With just four minutes on the clock, the Romanian was cleverly put through by Brazilian midfielder Guido. Only an immaculately timed tackle from French World Cup star Frank Leboeuf prevented the Swiss side from swiftly wiping out Chelsea's first leg lead.
Eight minutes later Gane was gifted with an even greater opportunity. Again benefiting from good Brazilian service, the Romanian received the ball from Jairo on the edge of the area, but his hasty shot flew well wide of Carlo Cudicini's post.
Still Chelsea failed to heed the warnings. On the quarter hour mark Amoah worked his way into the area before sliding the ball back to an unmarked Sascha Müller. The St Gallen midfielder fired a fierce shot towards the visitors' net, forcing Cudicini into an impressive diving save.
Seconds later Müller was given his second opportunity. Unlike Gane he took it with aplomb. Amoah was again the provider, drawing three Chelsea defenders with him before laying the ball off to his team-mate.
Müller could have had almost too much time to think, but he coolly chose his spot before burying the ball deep in the corner of the Chelsea net. With less than 20 minutes of the match played, St Gallen had the tie back on level terms.
Now Koller's men went in search of the lead. Chelsea, already reeling from the shock of the St Gallen goal, soon had to reshuffle after Italian international and former Swiss league player Roberto Di Matteo was stretchered off with a suspected broken leg.
If Chelsea thought things couldn't get any worse they didn't have to wait long to find out that they could. With ten minutes of the first half remaining Gane burst down the right wing, before feeding the ball perfectly to the feet of an incoming Charles Amoah.
At full tilt Amoah slammed the ball past a helpless Cudicini to put St Gallen 2-0 up on the night and 2-1 overall. If the scoreline seemed incredible as the half-time whistle blew, so too did the style in which it was achieved. St Gallen had thoroughly outplayed their illustrious opponents who had seemed to sleepwalk through the first 45 minutes without once threatening the Swiss team's goal.
A half-time appearance by Swiss tennis legend Martina Hingis added to what was already a star-studded night. The question now was whether the bright lights of Chelsea would shine brighter in the second half.
The London side certainly came out from the break with much more purpose. Ten minutes after the restart Gianfranco Zola drove a hard ball at the St Gallen goal, which goalkeeper Jörg Stiel could only push back into the crowded area.
Fortunately for St Gallen, Chelsea's Tore Andre Flo blasted the rebound high and wide of Stiel's goal.
As the visitors upped the tempo St Gallen's defence became more and more stretched. Jerron Nixon did well to shepherd the ball back to Stiel under pressure from Eldur Gudjohnsen. Stiel himself then had to produce a diving clearance to deny Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
With 17 minutes remaining Chelsea had their best chance of the match, substitute Ratz Aleksidze striking the bar from long range.
There were plenty of nervous moments to come for the St Gallen fans, as Chelsea showered Stiel's area with increasingly dangerous crosses. But finally the referee's whistle went, drowned entirely in the roar of the home supporters.
Against all the odds and hopes of even the most optimistic fans, St Gallen had beaten the London millionaires and had done so in style.
by Mark Ledsom
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