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By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - From the adrenaline-fuelled world of the Premier League Chelsea eased to first place in their Champions League group with a sober 1-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday.
Demba Ba bundled home the 11th-minute winner that confirmed first place in Group E and while the match will not live long in the memory at least Chelsea avoided any defensive hiccups after conceding six times in their previous two domestic matches.
Reserve goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was a spectator for most of the match and England left back Ashley Cole, given his first start in more than a month after losing his place to Cesar Azpilicueta, played on cruise control.
It was very much a case of job done for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who said it was not a night for "silly mistakes" which, in theory could have left his side finishing runners-up and facing a last-16 clash against one of the big guns.
"It was not a fantastic performance but a comfortable performance, but it was enough," Mourinho, who rested the likes of Fernando Torres, Gary Cahill and Ramires, told reporters.
"We did enough to win without any difficult moments. In the second half we knew Schalke were winning 2-0 so we knew only one point was enough for us.
"We didn't need to risk, or do silly things."
Mourinho, who had a green laser-pen directed towards him during the second half, gave Ba a rare start and the former Newcastle United and West Ham United striker made his mark, although perhaps should have made a bigger one.
Chelsea dominated the opening exchanges and it looked as though they might be in for a sizable victory when Oscar flicked on Willian's corner and Ba got the final touch under pressure from defender Daniel Georgievski.
Steaua's Gabreil Iancu should have levelled soon afterwards when he was clear on goal but he dragged his shot wide with only Schwarzer to beat.
The Romanian's offered little threat but 2012 champions Chelsea lacked urgency and laboured in attack, wasting several chances to increase their lead.
Branislav Ivanovic force a superb save from Steaua keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu before the interval while Cole and Frank Lampard both tried their luck from range.
Eden Hazard and Ba both missed sitters in the second half and Ba had a goal ruled out for offside as the match petered out into a non-event.
As group winners, Chelsea go into Monday's draw without the fear of playing Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich but Mourinho, bidding to win the trophy for a third time said there was still danger lurking.
"I think there are good teams in the runners-up spots," he said. "There are difficult teams there, the champions of Russia, the Greek champions, a German team in Bayer Leverkusen and the Turkish champions with King Didier (Drogba).
"When it goes to the knockout phase its's always tactical and emotional."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Demba Ba
- Jose Mourinho
- Steaua Bucharest
- Mark Schwarzer