Drogba strikes two in Blues' vital win
UCL RESULTS: DEC. 6
|Tuesday, December 6|
|Viktoria Plzen||0-2||AC Milan||Review|
|More: Europe | Champions League|
Didier Drogba scored two goals and set up another for Chelsea to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League as Group E winners by beating Valencia 3-0 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
The Ivory Coast striker set Chelsea on its way with a low drive in the third minute, played in Brazil midfielder Ramires for the second in the 22nd and wrapped up victory 14 minutes from the end to demote the Spanish team from the competition into the Europa League.
Needing a victory or a scoring draw to progress at Chelsea's expense, two-time finalist Valencia was allowed to dominate possession but was stifled by the hosts' packed defense.
Chelsea advanced to the last 16 for the ninth straight year.
Having reached at least the semifinals of the competition in five of the past eight seasons, Chelsea is rightly regarded as a Champions League heavyweight. But picking up just two points from three away games had left its qualification hopes hanging in the balance for the first time.
Drogba eased any fears, though, with an inspired display that justified his continued selection ahead of record-signing Fernando Torres and revived memories of his bulldozing performances of a few years ago.
Collecting a short inside pass from Juan Mata - who joined Chelsea from Valencia for €30 million (then $43 million) in the offseason - Drogba put the home side ahead by turning Antonio Barragan and driving in a left-footed shot that goalkeeper Diego Alves got a hand to but couldn't keep out.
It was Drogba's 35th Champions League goal - and the club's quickest in the competition.
Valencia threatened an immediate equalizer, with Jordi Alba smashing a shot against the post in the fifth minute and captain David Albelda drawing a stunning one-handed save out of Peter Cech in the 10th.
However, Ramires' fine goal left the visitors with too much to do.
Picking the ball up in his own half, Drogba spun past his marker and powered forward before slipping a pass through to the advancing Ramires. Victor Ruiz's weak attempt to hold off the Brazilian failed dismally, and Ramires ghosted in to slip home a low left-footed finish in at the near post.
Having not conceded in two home matches already in the group, Chelsea was content to sit back and invite pressure - with Drogba and forward Daniel Sturridge often found filling in at full back.
Despite some neat buildup play in midfield, Valencia couldn't pierce Chelsea's packed defense, although midfielder Sofiane Feghouli went close when his fizzing left-footed effort was tipped aside by Cech in the 63rd.
The hosts were reduced to sporadic attacks, with the ubiquitous Drogba bustling past Adil Rami and firing just wide in the 73rd before he grabbed his second, racing onto Mata's through ball and slotting a low finish into the corner.
The crowd afforded the striker a standing ovation and rousing applause as he came off for Torres moments later, receiving a handshake and a pat on the back from manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Two Chelsea supporters took their celebrations too far, invading the pitch five minutes from time, but the game was up by then for Valencia.