LONDON-- Roberto Di Matteo called it Mission Impossible. So it might prove, as his Chelsea began the defense of its Champions League title in unpersuasive fashion, surrendering a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 against Serie A flag bearer Juventus.
The aptly-named Oscar had threatened to steal the show with two goals in two minutes on his full Chelsea debut and in his first Champions League appearance, the second a strike of rare quality.
But Arturo Vidal gave his team hope with a fine strike shortly before halftime and substitute Fabio Quagliarella made the home side pay for a sloppy performance with an 81st minute equalizer.
It was the least the well-drilled visiting side deserved in its return to the competition following a three-season hiatus.
Manager Antonio Conte, watching from the stands as he continues his lengthy touchline ban, had watched in dismay as his team wasted two gilt-edged chances midway through the first period, but Quaglieralla, who also hit the top of the bar late in the dying minutes, ensured a second consecutive night of Champions League drama in the marquee fixture of the evening.
Di Matteo made only a slight tweak to the team that stuttered to a goalless draw at QPR last Saturday, replacing the sweet left foot of Ryan Bertrand with the more exotic skills of Oscar. The 25 million pound signing from Internacional has been gradually eased into life at Stamford Bridge following his exertions for Brazil at the Olympics.
It proved to be an inspired use of the considerable attacking midfield resources at the disposal of the Chelsea manager, who was unable to field a recognized striker on the bench following the late withdrawal of Daniel Sturridge with a hamstring injury.
Juventus arrived at Stamford Bridge with a desperate recent record on English soil, losing eight - including a 1-0 last-16 Champions League defeat at Stamford Bridge four seasons ago - and drawing three.
Yet the club returned to Europe’s head table for the first time in three years as Serie A's winner, league leader and Italy’s most convincing flag bearer on the back of an astonishing 42-match league unbeaten run.
Just to rubber stamp Juve's rejuvenation, the visiting side starting X1 featured six members of the Italy team that began the Euro 2012 final against Spain – Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini, Pirlo and Marchisio.
Both sides struggled to create opportunities in the early exchanges, although David Luiz collected a nosebleed for his trouble after side-footing a fourth minute Frank Lampard corner straight at Buffon.
Juventus began to threaten on the counterattack and twice came close to breaking the deadlock midway through the first period.
Firstly, Claudio Marchisio broke from midfield to spring Chelsea’s offside trap and latch on to a long pass from Barzagli but his first touch was too heavy and Petr Cech was able to smother the danger.
Soon afterwards, Branislav Ivanovic sloppy pass was intercepted and Mirko Vucinic was sent through on goal but the imposing striker biffed his shot wide.
Chelsea had been erratic up to this point, lacking composure in the final third and sloppy at the back.
But, following an anonymous half hour, Oscar made his mark and demonstrated why he had been preferred to Juan Mata in the central playmaker role behind Fernando Torres.
Eden Hazard was once again the creator. The Belgian upped his already burgeoning assist count by swerving in from the left after 31 minutes and teeing up his sidekick in the center. Oscar took a touch and then let fly from 25 yards, although Buffon would surely have saved the shot had it not take a cruel deflection off Bonucci.
If there was an element of fortune to Oscar’s first goal for his new employer, the second was an absolute gem of imagination and execution.
With a single touch he was able to control the pass he received on the edge of the box and, at the same time, wrong-foot the defense to give himself a shooting opportunity. The second touch was as glorious as the first, a delightful curled shot evading the dive of Buffon.
The home fans, who had already been pumped up by the Champions League trophy – or the ‘Big Cup’ as one noteworthy former manager calls it – being paraded shortly before kickoff, were in jubilant mood.
The vociferous visiting supporters, who had been momentarily silenced by Oscar’s sublime second, were soon back in full voice.
Chelsea switched off again in the 38th minute and this time the team was punished by Arturo Vidal. The midfielder lashed a low shot beyond Cech from 20 yards to give his team hope going into the break.
Conte’s team is famed for combining its physical determination with a willingness to attack and proved in the second period why the club has become such tough nut to crack.
Shortly after Oscar departed to a standing ovation from the home supporters, Quagliarella took full advantage of sloppiness from Mikel and a shocking attempt to play the offside trap by Terry.
Mikel gave the ball away deep in his own half and Chelsea dawdled before Terry tried to deal with a deep pass from Marchiso by looking to catch out Quagliarella. It failed dismally. The Italian darted past him and slotted calmly past Cech for a deserved equalizer.
It could have been even worse for the home side. With four minutes left, Quagliarella clipped the top of the bar following a delightful turn and shot.
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- Champions League
- Fabio Quagliarella
- Arturo Vidal
- Stamford Bridge
- Roberto Di Matteo