Fri, Nov 07, 2014 - Page 18 News List

UEFA: Blues set record after early scare

Reuters, MARIBOR, Slovenia

Chelsea stretched their unbeaten start to the season to a club record-equaling 16 games with a 1-1 UEFA Champions League draw against NK Maribor on Wednesday, but the 2011-2012 winners were given a mighty scare.

The Slovenian upstarts, destroyed 6-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in London two weeks ago, took the lead in the 50th minute when Macedonia winger Agim Ibraimi curled in a spectacular left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area.

Maribor, buoyed by a noisy crowd, swarmed all over Jose Mourinho’s side and had a great chance to make it 2-0 on the hour when unmarked teenager Luka Zahovic blazed the ball over the bar from close range with an open goal at his mercy.

Chelsea then upped the tempo and Nemanja Matic equalized with a tap-in at the far post after captain John Terry had headed on a right-wing corner from Cesc Fabregas in the 73rd minute.

The Londoners spurned an excellent opportunity to grab all three points when Eden Hazard was tripped in the area with four minutes to go. The Belgian picked himself up to take the penalty, but his effort was saved by Jasmin Handanovic.

A grim-faced Mourinho, who brought on Diego Costa and Oscar for Andre Schuerrle and Willian at halftime, and also replaced Filipe Luis with Ramires 11 minutes into the second half, was clearly unhappy with his side.

Chelsea started the game on the front foot with the unmarked Kurt Zouma heading over from close range and Didier Drogba, making his 100th career appearance in a UEFA competition, forcing Handanovic into a sprawling stop.

The longer the half went on, though, the more pedestrian the passing became from the visitors.

Ibraimi’s stunning left-foot drive sent the crowd wild and Maribor, back in the Champions League group stages after a 15-year absence, sensed victory, but Hazard, Oscar and Fabregas suddenly took hold of proceedings.

The Londoners continued to drive forward after Matic’s equalizer and Handanovic performed heroics when he went full length to deny Hazard after the Belgian burst clean through.

Hazard then saw his spot-kick saved by Handanovic.

At the final whistle Chelsea had equaled their best-ever start to a campaign set in 2005-2006.

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