Oscar helps Chelsea defeat Sparta 1-0
By Rob Harris, APLONDON--After the ignominy of a premature demise from the Champions League as defending champion, Chelsea's quest to win the Europa League began by gaining a slender advantage at Sparta Prague on Thursday.
February 16, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
On another miserable night for striker Fernando Torres, who has scored once in 13 matches, it fell to substitute Oscar to clinch a 1-0 victory in the first leg of the last-32 match.
“We have to create more opportunities and the strikers will score more goals,” Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. “(Torres') work rate today was really good and thanks to him the rest of the team, especially the second line of offensive players, they could create.”
But there was only gloom for the team Benitez won the Champions League title with in 2005.
Liverpool, the five-time European Cup champions, lost 2-0 at Zenit St. Petersburg to mirror its struggles in the Premier League in which it sits in ninth place.
High-flying Premier League rival Tottenham will take a 2-1 lead to Lyon next Thursday after Gareth Bale scored twice from free kicks, while Rodrigo Palacio's double gave Inter Milan a 2-0 lead over Cluj.
The teams in the strongest position to advance are Levante and Viktoria Plzen, who both won their first legs 3-0.
In the Czech capital, Chelsea's breakthrough came after Benitez replaced Juan Mata with Oscar.
And the Brazilian's first involvement in the match ended with a goal in the 82nd minute after playing a one-two with Eden Hazard.
Benitez is already looking ahead to the May final in Amsterdam.
“(The players) have to realize it's an opportunity to win a trophy,” he said. “I'm sure if we can progress they will see the option.”
Winning the Europa League would restore some pride at Chelsea after it became the first Champions League winners to exit the competition in the group stage in December.
At home, Chelsea is out of the League Cup, facing an FA Cup fourth-round replay against third-tier club Brentford on Sunday, and barey holding onto third in the Premier League.
Tottenham is only a point behind Chelsea domestically, and also holds a one-goal advantage in Europe.
Liverpool's Luis Suarez, right, in action with Zenit's Aleksandr Anyukov during the Europa League, round of 32, first leg match, between Liverpool FC and Zenit St. Petersburg in ...
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