Drogba goal

An early Didier Drogba goal was enough to give Chelsea a vital 1-0 win over Juventus in their Champions League last-16 first leg at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.

Chelsea came racing out of the traps and deserved the lead they took through Didier Drogba’s goal inside the first 15 minutes. Juventus’ initial response was good, though, The Old Lady coming close through Alessandro Del Piero.

The visitors were the better side in the second period and put pressure on the Blues’ defense, but failed to create enough clear opportunities, meaning an intriguing second leg lies in store with the English side holding the advantage after tonight.

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink caused no surprises with his starting XI. Drogba and Nicolas Anelka joined Salomon Kalou in a three-pronged forward line, while Alex continued to deputize for the injured Ricardo Carvalho in defense. Ashley Cole returned at left-back in place of Paulo Ferreira.

Juventus picked captain Del Piero and Amauri in attack over David Trezeguet and Vincenzo Iaquinta, while Olof Mellberg came into the defense ahead of Zdenek Grygera, who had started against Palermo at the weekend.

The Blues made a fast start, Kalou cutting inside from left and shooting across the face of goal to give Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon an early test after just four minutes.

Then, Jose Bosingwa found space on the right after being fed by Michael Ballack and whipped in a good cross. Drogba managed to get in front of his marker, Nicola Legrottaglie, and headed just over the bar from close-range.

But the Italians did not heed the warnings, and, in the 12th minute, Chelsea went ahead. Frank Lampard delivered a poor free-kick from the right touchline, which Mauro Camoranesi cleared as far as Kalou 25 yards from goal.

The Ivorian winger was determined to keep the move alive and turned to guide the ball back into the box, where Drogba was able to get onto the wrong side of Legrottaglie and scuff a shot past Buffon into the far corner of the net from just inside the penalty area.

Drogba should have scored again four minutes later, but wasted his third golden opportunity of the opening stages. Lampard fed a corner in and Drogba, who stood completely unmarked six yards out, mistimed his header wide of the post.

That finally seemed to galvanize the visitors, who came close to scoring twice in quick succession as they enjoyed a good spell mid-way through the first half.

Firstly, former Chelsea midfielder Tiago swivelled well outside the box and spotted the run of Del Piero. The Portuguese slipped through a clever pass and the Italian forced Blues keeper Petr Cech into a good save.

From the resulting corner, Del Piero’s delivery was helped on by Amauri and so nearly connected with Giorgio Chiellini at the far post. The Brazilian striker should have done better with his header, having lost Chelsea captain John Terry.

Things quietened down as the half progressed, although Juve were still able to threaten as Camoranesi’s shot deflected narrowly over the crossbar, before Pavel Nedved shot straight at Cech from 20 yards just before half-time.

After the break, Chelsea started well, Drogba again getting a run on Legrottaglie and heading just wide from Bosingwa’s cross, while a left-footed effort from Lampard was well held by Buffon in the 57th minute.

For Juve, Nedved had another shot which failed to trouble Cech, before substitute Marco Marchionni rifled in an effort from 25 yards that fell just over Czech Republic international’s goal.

Then, Del Piero and Amauri came close with headers in quick succession on 70 minutes as Juventus put pressure on the hosts without creating many clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities.

Juve coach Clauido Ranieri seemed reluctant to alter his side’s system while they held the edge in the match, with no sign of Trezeguet until he was brought on in the 86th minute in place of Mohamed Sissoko.

Anelka, who had a quiet night for Chelsea by his high standards so far this season, drove a powerful effort narrowly wide with three minutes to go, before Trezeguet, moments after arriving on the pitch, poorly struck wide after a clever flick by Del Piero.

Then, in the third minute of added time, Nedved’s deflected long-range effort came so close to finding the inside of the post, but the home side held on and are in the strong position going into the second leg in Italy.