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Chelsea starts European bid by beating Porto 1-0

NICOLAS Anelka gave Chelsea a winning start to its Champions League campaign by clinching a 1-0 victory over Porto in the Group D opener yesterday.

On a rain-soaked Stamford Bridge pitch, the France forward struck three minutes into the second half to see off the Portuguese champions on an unimpressive night for Chelsea.

"It was a great result, we weren't at our best tonight but it was a difficult night and we got the win," midfielder Frank Lampard said. "You can't always play top, top football. The ball was skidding about, some of our passing went astray, but we've had to stay strong and win the game - and that's what we did."

So persistent was the rain in west London that a second-tier English league match at nearby Queens Park Rangers was postponed.

Given the goal-scoring opportunities presented to the Blues, Carlo Ancelotti's first European match in charge of the London club should have produced a greater margin of victory.

Ancelotti, a two-time European Cup winner as a player and a coach, has been hired to deliver the one trophy that continues to elude Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Champions League football returned to Stamford Bridge for the first time since a last-minute Barcelona goal kept Chelsea out of May's final.

The effects of that hot-tempered night were still being felt on Tuesday as Ancelotti was denied the services of both Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa, who were serving UEFA suspensions as punishment for their postmatch outbursts.

Drogba, who will miss another two Champions League games in the six-match group stage, was sorely missed as Chelsea squandered a succession of chances and lacked the cutting edge to comfortably collect three points.

Lampard came close for Chelsea twice in the opening seven minutes, seeing one shot pushed wide by Helton and a free header blocked a point-blank range.

There was an early scare when Chelsea captain John Terry - voted the competition's best defender last year - went down after Bruno Alves' elbow crashed into his face while they went for an aerial ball. The England international was knocked out for 10 seconds, but recovered to finish the match.

"I went out for a little bit, but managed to come round," Terry said. "It's a little bit sore still."

Alves escaped punishment, but two Chelsea players were booked by referee Konrad Plautz: Michael Essien for a sliding challenge on Hulk and Florent Malouda for fouling Fredy Guarin.

With Joe Cole recovering from a knee injury and yet to make his first appearance since January, Chelsea lacked the width to overwhelm the visitors.

Porto's main threat came from Hulk, who had a 25-meter (yard) strike blocked by Petr Cech's knees. From the resulting corner, Cristian Rodriguez headed over. Fredy Guarin and Raul Meireles also tried to beat Cech with their heads.

"We had it difficult because we wanted to pass the ball in the center and Porto was very close in the center," said Ancelotti, who has now won his first six matches at Chelsea. "We can't always play our best and we have won without playing well. This is an important thing for the team to win with our character.

"Our attacking play was good in the first half, but we had a problem in the second half to maintain the control of the play."

That is apart from the opening minutes when Chelsea made its decisive breakthrough.

Salomon Kalou fed Anelka, whose initial shot was parried by Helton before the forward blasted the rebound into the net from a tight angle.

"Conceding a goal so quickly made us try too hard," Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira said through a translator. "We showed good quality and played our game, but it's very difficult to come to Chelsea and face very attacking football and open up gaps without leaving ourselves exposed."

A Chelsea second goal should have come soon after the opener when Ashley Cole provided an inviting cross that Malouda could only head into the side netting.

Helton, though, pulled off a superb save to keep out a flash header from Kalou.

Porto had Fernando sent off for a second booking after a sliding challenging in stoppage time on Ashley Cole, who had been key to Chelsea capturing the three points.


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