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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Chelsea leave it late
William Gallas scores for Chelsea in Prague

Sparta Prague 0-1 Chelsea

Chelsea got off the mark in the Champions League with victory away at Sparta Prague thanks to a late William Gallas goal.

The Frenchman struck low past Jaromir Blazek five minutes from time after a Damien Duff corner was flicked on by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

It was ample reward for Claudio Ranieri's men, who had dominated the second period and created a host of chances to win the game after a disappointing first-half showing.

Argentine striker Hernan Crespo was the principal culprit, wasting several decent opportunities before being withdrawn 20 minutes from the end.

Ranieri kept faith with only four of the side that thrashed Spurs in the Premiership on Saturday - Carlo Cudicini, Marcel Desailly, Emmanuel Petit and Adrian Mutu retaining their places.

3 mins: Mutu heads wide from a Johnson cross
50 mins: Crespo's tame shot is comfortably gathered by Blazek
85 mins: Gallas wins the contest with a right-foot finish after Hasslebaink's flick-on

After Mutu had headed wide from a Glen Johnson cross two minutes in Sparta began to dominate proceedings, and a succession of dangerous set-pieces from former West Ham man Vladimir Labant had the visitors' defence stretched.

Despite continually conceding possession it was Chelsea who managed to create the better openings, and Crespo and then Mutu both had shots that tested Blazek in the Sparta goal.

Five minutes before the break Mutu had a real chance to open the scoring, but he failed to connect properly with Geremi's cross and Blazek gathered.

Then in stoppage time Radoslav Kovac got on the end of a Karel Poborsky cross from the right only to head wide of Cudicini's goal from eight yards when he should have done better.

Chelsea's Geremi (left) fires in another cross in Prague
Chelsea's Geremi (left) fires in another cross in Prague

Ranieri was clearly not happy with his side's first half display, and Petit and Mutu - who did take a knock - were withdrawn at the break, with Frank Lampard and Duff replacing them.

The Blues responded to their manager's call and came out looking more like a team that had just had 110m spent on it.

Six minutes into the half Johnson went on a mazy run and played in Crespo, but the striker's attempted chip was again easily dealt with by Blazek.

Duff began to weave his magic down the Chelsea left, and his brilliant cross was turned just wide of his own goal by Petr Johana.

Two more high quality passes - one each from Duff and Veron - sent Crespo bearing down on goal, but twice his finishing was wayward and Sparta survived.

Crespo was replaced by Hasselbaink with 20 minutes remaining, and the Dutchman was only prevented from scoring ten minutes later by a last-ditch block from the magnificent Johana.

However, the Blues were not to be denied and the unlikely Gallas popped up to calmly side-foot home with five minutes remaining to take all three points back to Stamford Bridge.

Sparta Prague: Blazek, Labant (Jezek 87), Johana, Petras, Nemec, Poborsky, Michalik (Zboncak 56), Kovac, Hubschman, Jun, Igor Gluscevic.
Subs Not Used: Kouba, Zelenka, Kincl, Sionko, Homola.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Johnson, Gallas, Desailly, Bridge, Geremi, Veron, Makelele, Petit, Crespo (Hasselbaink 72), Mutu (Duff 46).
Subs Not Used: Ambrosio, Cole, Gudjohnsen, Terry.

Attendance: 18,997.

Referee: Helmut Fleischer (Germany).

BBC Sport's Dave Woods
"A priceless win for Chelsea's millionaires"

Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri
"It's very important to begin well"

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