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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 12:09 GMT
Ranieri salutes Cudicini
Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini
Carlo Cudicini celebrates Chelsea's win
Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri praised Carlo Cudicini's performance as his side stepped up their Champions League claims with a 3-1 win at Birmingham City.

A string of superb saves kept Chelsea in the game before Gianfranco Zola, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink gave the London club a three-goal lead.

Every mistake we are making is being punished

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce

Robbie Savage pulled a goal back with a penalty, but that was Birmingham's only consolation as Chelsea motored into third place in the Premiership table.

Ranieri said: "Carlo again did very well for us and in the first half he saved us when Birmingham had some good chances.

"He is so assured. When an opponent does something extraordinary, Carlo is there. When we make a mistake, Carlo is there.

"It is very important for us because he helps everyone stay calm and assured and he has a very good temperament.

"People ask me if he is the best. It is difficult for me to say because all my players are the best for me.

"But I certainly think he is one of the best around."

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce
Bruce's team have won one point in 21

Ranieri added: "The first goal was always going to be very important and Birmingham put us under pressure in the first half.

"But after we had got the second goal it was very difficult for them. We retained possession of the ball very well and became more relaxed."

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce tried to remain upbeat even though his side have now taken only one point from their last seven games.

He said: "In the first half we had the better chances and had a right good fist of it.

"But it is cruel for us at the moment because every mistake we are making is being punished.

"I think we didn't deserve to go 3-0 down and it was hard to believe that.

"But if we maintain the spirit of the first half and get a bit of luck then I am confident that things can come right.

"We've had a difficult five or six games against many of the leading clubs but you have to stick at it and wait for the break to go your way."


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