Chelsea did not really deserve that, but when you have players of unfeasible ability, they will tend to impose unfeasible brilliance that skews what actually happened. Sparta defended well for the most part, and ensured that those chances they did cede fell to Torres - a very clever tactic. They also broke sharply, and better finishing and decision-making would have had them in the next round. But instead, it's Chelsea who will play Ajax or Steaua, they are playing extra-time - and I can only imagine the excitement felt by the population of Amsterdam at the prospect of welcoming their visitors.
Lastly, an admission: that, though it wasn't diamond-sky dancing, was pretty good. Night.
FULL-TIME: CHELSEA 1(2)-(1)1 SPARTA PRAHA
Just as I'm about to detail another missed opportunity, Cahill somehow arsing away a Kadlec shot, Chelsea break and Hazard scorches past two men, astonishing a drive of timetravelling, atmosphere-curdling power high past Vaclik at his near post.
Take your shirt off to parade your muscles, son.
GOAL! Chelsea 1-1 Sparta Prague (Hazard)
INTERCOURSE UNDERWORLD! BRILLIANT FINISH!
90 min Matejovski, who's had an excellent evening, pulls himself and the ball forward,stabbing through to Kadlec - I think - and with the tie flashing afore his eyes, he drags a shot wide.
88 min We've lost some minutes here - did they happen? - but Chelsea win a corner on the left, fudged low to the near post and turned on by Terry to Ramires. He positively thunders the equaliser-winner past Vaclik ... except it somehow flashes wide. He can sense the dryness in my throat, the animal.
84 min Matejovski attempts to tap Mata's ankles, fails, and fouls Hazard instead, for which he is booked. The free-kick is headed clear, to where Azpilicueta is waiting to pounce. He measure it onto his instep, but it's a difficult volley, and though the connection isn't bad, he still slices wide.
81 min Bertrand crosses low from the left, but as bodies morph in its direction, Krejcl is on hand to remove it from danger. ITV are cutting to Frank Lampard like he's Kate Middleton at Wimbledon, as Chelsea win a free-kick which Mata takes and Krejcl blocks - but the referee decides he's advanced too soon, booking him. Roughly similar happens, except the ball ends up at Moses' feet on the right touchline, whose hopeful cross is cleared, and then Bertrand acquires himself a yellow card - for what I did not see.
79 min Hazard slings in another free-kick, one of those where the keeper can't commit until someone gets a touch, but if he waits too long it might be beyond him. He doesn't, catapulting into a double-fisted punch. Kweuke replaces Lafata.
76 min Andrew Wiese tweets in to commit illusionacide: "Where'd you get that about Rakim's age? Everything I can find makes him 20 in '87..."
From someone who should know - but he must be wrong. Still, 20 isn't bad.
74 min This might be the nichest MBM email I've ever seen, but sadly it falls into one I was once forced to pretend I had, so, here's amateur anthropolgist Dan Owen: "And what's Malinowski doing? He's supposed to be a mythical anthropologist figure all tied up in the Trobiand Islands."
Put that in yer intellects and smoke it.
73 min These last few minutes have seen Sparta flexing, and Zapotocny accepts a headed clearance on his chest, letting it bounce and feathering a further touch to set himself up for a vaporiser, which dips just over the bar.
70 min "What was the name of the Genesis tribute band, JR?" requests Simon McMahon. I say requests, but it's actually addressed at himself, in order that he might provide the following pay-off: "Surely can't be better than the Bon Jovi tribute act, By Jovi."
Oooh that's good. Back at the Bridge, Sparta counter, Vacha lifting a ball over Azpilicueta for Kadlec to hare onto, and as he reaches the corner of the area, he glances up and sees Lafata beseeching a square pass. So he shoots, and is well and truly looked at by way of punishment.
69 min Hazard is on for Oscar, and almost immediately, Chelsea win a free-kick wide on the left. Hazard swings it in, but Vaclik is out sharply to punch clear.
67 min Madre de dios! Slithering in from the left, Ramires massacres a shot from the edge of the box that looks headed in the general direction of the goal - and you can probably guess the rest. Clearly, it slaps Pooroldfernando in the coupon and bounces to safety.
65 min Moses loses possession deep inside his own half, left-hand side, and Pikryl is on to him quickly, finding Matejovsky via Vacha. Tanking through midfield, a path opens up for him, and he flings his entire body into a welted shot that's not far wide of the far post. At Anfield, by the way, it's Liverpool 3-1 Zenit - so they require another goal to qualify. You can find Tom Lutz describing that to you next door.
63 min Torres tosses a blonde head in the direction of a hopeful punt, actually doing fairly well to get to it. But this is a losing game, and he can only deflect it behind for a goal-kick. He does a miserable face and looks thoroughly verklempt.
60 min JR, your 'also' is a very fine segue. It's Benitez substitution time - if I could see a clock, I'd have set it by it, and yet it continues not to come.
57 min JR in Illinois has an anecdote: "Personally I have been rooting for extra time since Sparta scored. I
don't even care who wins, as long as it's not Chelsea. Also, one of the best concerts I have ever been to was a Genesis tribute band. I think they were from Canada. They played the entire
"Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" album and they had costumes and slides
that were from the original tour. Somehow they even had a balding,
left handed drummer. They were amazing."
Elsewhere, Torres outjumps Vacha on the right of the box following a long free-kick, his flick finding Terry with his back to goal. Spinning slightly, he turns it round the corner with the outside of his right foot, forcing Vaclik to vault across goal to push it away. Great effort.
56 min Hybs is booked for pulling back Azpilicueta, but the free-kick, close to the right corner flag, comes to nothing. The pressure is building, though.
55 min From across the desk, Tom Davies says holla! "Re your Eric B and Rakim comment on the MBM, wasn't the superior Follow the Leader released after Paid in Full?"
We'll meet round the back of the coffee machine to sort this out, but on the subject of Paid in Full, Rakim was 16 when that came out. I'm not sure there's a better piece of work released by someone so young.
52 min Oh Fernando, Fernando, Fernando. Ramires futsal-pokes a through-ball and Torres, with Holek one side and Svejdik the other spins without touching it and leaves them both in pursuit. Beautiful! But Vaclik is out quickly, and does brilliantly to deflect the prod-dinked finish away with a strong arm.
50 min I don't know why, but I always imagine men called Clive are magicians. This Clive reckons Sparta wouldn't have presumed to be ahead "in their wildest dreams". And he's right, one side leading another is truly unimaginable scenario. Meanwhile the visitors break - a vision that came to them in less insane rapid eye movement - but Matejovsky picked an injudicious pass, and the attack was foiled.
47 min Oscar sashays forward after reading a pass and robbing Kadlec, moving left to right and gliding past men, chortling as he goes. Ramires is free on the right of the box and receives a pass made-to-measure. It looks inconceivable that he won't score - the keeper can't get across quickly enough and there's a significant gap between him and the post - but Zapotocny extends a leg to deflect the shot flush onto it.
46 min We're off again. "We expect Chelsea to sort it out," said Ray Stubbs, and you can imagine those were the only words spoken in the changing room.
Terry: Sort it aht!
Cole: Yeah, sort it aht.
Half-time email: Les Crooge is, like his boot heels wondering (almost) "whether I think we can arguably conclude that the Bard mystifies as well - if not better on paper - than he does in song. It took me a moment to realise just how mesmerising his imagery really is."
The Bard is an interesting choice of word, because I certainly feel that way about Shakespeare. In the theatre, I find it almost impossible to follow, even more so to appreciate the language. With Dylan it's a little different, i reckon. First and foremost, he's "a song-and-dance man" - probably ironic self-deprecation, but true, too - it's music after all, and before anything else, he's a wondrous songwriter.
Points to ponder: has the ever been a decline, in any field of human endeavour, to compare with that of Fernando Torres? Eric B and Rakim after Paid in Full? I really don't know - if one wasn't incapable of fellow feeling, one might feel bad for him.
Anyway, Rafael Benitez has something to chew on. Here's a half-time ad that might inspire something.
That was actually not at all bad. Sparta look confident coming forward, though less so at the back - if Torres was on top of his game, he'd have scored at least twice. There's ya insight. You're welcome (to vereel football faktries). See you shortly!
HALF-TIME: Chelsea 0(1)-1(0) Sparta
45+1 Torres flies into another right-wing cross, again, looking for all the world ike he's going to score, and clearly he doesnae.
43 min Chelsea are sort of putting on the pressure - they're going forwards and stuff - but Sparta are looking very lively on the break. Chelsea "need a Frenk Lempard", apparently, "who's just gonna pop up and get yerself a goal".
Yes, it really is precisely that simple. More so than reflexive pronouns, evidently.
40 min David Flynn is a proud man. "Call over tomorrow night then," he propositions - "Friday is chilli night and I fly fast and loose with the hot chilli powder."
Etz chayim hee dude, I'm afraid - I don't roll on Shabbes. But I do provide cooking tips on Thursday, so here's one: whatever kind of heat one is seeking, always select scotch bonnets, for warmth and flavour that isnae just heat.
39 min If Fernando Torres were Clive Allen, there would be world peace.
40 min Gnohedidn! Mata, now on the left and just inside the box, manages to get a boot to a raking ball from the right. As it kicks up, he brings his foot up towards and outside his knee, flicking the ball into his path and spinning to face goal, in a single motion. Righting his stance as it drops, he slams his laces into it, but his effort is just over the top. What a joyous player he is. Not as joyous as Gervinho, obviously, but that's Gallic genius for you.
34 min Azpilicueta locates some space down the right deep inside the Sparta half, and aims a cross towards Torres and the far post. But it's not quite pacy enough, and krejcl gets underneath it to flick away. Clive Allen's not having it, though - it was Torres' fault.
34 min The thought of extra time has just percolated my cerebrum - how d'ya like them apples? I'm not suffering alone, I ain't no martyr.
32 min We're back in business, and David Flynn is back defending the weak poverty of his tastebuds. "Does it make it any better if I say I made the Korma from scratch myself? Or does that make me Torres, I did all the hard work but the end product just wasn't quite right?"
Korma with a kapital K, now you're talking. I'm sure it was very nice - just that my destroyed tongue can enjoy little beyond very hot, very sour, very islay.
31 min The referee has a cut on his hand. No doubt it was achieved upon the wit of John Terry.
27 min Sparta are starting to enjoy themselves. Vacha strides through midfield, and spotting Bertrand too close to Terry - as if there could be such a thing - lasers a ball at Pikryl on his right. Advancing into the box, he thunks across a shot that Cech pushes around his near post, comfortably enough. The ensuing corner is headed out by Azpilicueta, but weakly, and it falls directly onto the laces of Matejovski, around the edge of the box. He's ready for it, but can't keep it down. Or put another way, this does not happen.
25 min Sparta force two corners, their fans performing a post-millenium equivalent of "you're shit...ahhhhh", involving finger waggling. They come to nothing.
22 min Compassion's David Flynn is here. "Am I the only person who really really wants Torres to play well and score? I don't even much like Chelsea, I just see him trying so hard, with all of us, full of chicken korma (just me?), constantly judging and I feel sorry for him. And as I type this Sparta have scored so now the pressure really is on."
What sort of self-respecting MAN LADS LADMAN LEGEND MAN eats kormas? Lamb dhansak, madras hot.
21 min This is rather aggravating. Kadlec's brilliant thing - let's call it a swoop, if only to reclaim the word from tattle - was very similar to what Giggs does before crossing for Cantona to score this contortionist's header. But handily, the relevant psalmist has chosen to cut it from the footage.
20 min Torres plays a wall-pass off Oscar, but clips himself against a defender's leg en route to the return, then tumbles. Forlorn Fernando!
19 min It was a matter of time. Good evening Ryanne Dunne: "Hawrite Dazzle Hazzle! Re: mothers in laws. Surely this is a great opportunity for MBMs to move into a broader, end-of-the-pier, Les Dawson style? Might be worth giving it a go! We could do an experiment, see if a more Michael Macintyre and less Bill Hicks MBM got more hits!"
This is brilliantly improvised goal. A long, slide-rule pass through the inside-left channel bisects the Chelsea defence, but appears to be sliding behind. Kadlec, apparently in forlorn pursuit, allowed his body to enter into a slide, standing up and turning, ball accepted into his possession in the same movement - it's a Ryan Giggs special - and thoroughly befuddles Cahill. In the meantime, Lafata has turned up and is in perfect position to slam a side-footer into the roof of the net when the ball is squared to him.
GOAL! Chelsea 0-1 Sparta Praha (Lafata)
13 min Keith Smith inside the domicile! "Your nice preamble quote from Bob D has in fact occurred before in commentary on a sporting event. About 20 years ago a US football commentator totally lost it as someone headed for a touchdown, and screamed "He's dancing' beneath the diamond skies with one hand waving' free…!!!' Perhaps some of your more nerdish readers might help with the details."
That's made me very happy. I would give my right nostril to see that.
12 min (I think) - the clock-side of the screen has been chopped by my console, but at least it gives me an additional gripe. Mata spins a corner into the near post where Torres has peeled away, and he directs his header over the top.
9 min Oh Fernando! Mata accepts delivery of a crossfield pass wife on the right, and looks into the centre where Torres is waving. Unable to espy anyone else to pass to, he whips over a perfect pass, into the space between our intrepid investigator and the keeper. He semi-slides into a right-footed prod, which krichs just over the bar. "He's got too much on it," insgihts Clive.
7 min Azpilicueta backheads a cross away but not away, and the ball breaks to Kadlec, who, from ten or so yards out, reckons he's about to score. But from behind Terry, Azpilicueta reappears to thrust a thigh in the road, and the ball bounces to safety.
6 min Clive Allen is easily the most unbearable man ever to score forty-nine goals in a season, or to attempt kicking for the London Monarchs. I'm not sure I can go on.
5 min I was worried, but Alexander Williamson is my stallion on a palomino. "Does this mean we're free", he inquires. Not sure I'm ready for such profundity at such an early hour, but he continues: "To make plenty of Genesis-based puns tonight? When Chelsea are floundering in the second half, you can refer to Stamford Bridge as 'The Land of Confusion' and say "Get 'em out by Friday" when referring to what the fans want Roman to do to Benitez.
I think I've run out now. But I'm no journalist."
World we live in (woah oh-oh) I'd say.
4 min Great chance for Chelsea, and it's desperately tricky not to suffix this with a "but it fell to Torres". But it did indeed fall to Torres. Moses muscled past Kerjcl along the right touchline and picked our man out with a cut-back. It came to him perfectly, and he measured a perfect finish that seemed destined to reach the goal with intense deliberation, but it somehow faded a millimetre wide, as though commandeered by radio-controlling satan.
3 min It's important Chelsea get the ball to Mata, Moses and Oscar, apparently. More news as I get it.
1 min Sparta kick off, as Jon Champion sneers at at a "Uefa mandarin" for delaying it. As if his troupe would do anything of the ilk, eh.
Shaking hands at 45 degrees: unacceptable according the the MBMers code of conduct, right?
"They will listen to the Europa League anthem and shake hands". That's what it's all about.
Oh no, here we are. John Terrence is looking earnest in the tunnel, and the players try to take the field. Were there a marching band, it would currently be yielding.
We're yet to cross to Stamford Bridge. You may have to sing this to yourselves. But who doesn't love singing? I once got caught doing so by my mother in law - which I suppose could be much worse.
Amazingly fun fact: Sparta once had a player called Petr Gabriel - he had a right sledgehammer of a right foot, apparently, could give it some right steam. He was also the unfortunate whose bad backpass allowed Thierry Henry to sneak in and eli-mye-nate them from Euro 2000, but tragically, a popular internet video hosting site is silent on the matter.
Let's have some teams, what:
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Bertrand; Mikel, Ramires; Moses, Mata, Oscar; Torres.
Subs: Turnbull, Cole, Luiz, Ferreira, Hazard, Marin, Benayoun.
Sparta Praha (4-1-4-1): Vaclik; Zapotocny, Holek, Svejdik, Hybs; Vacha; Prikryl, Matejovsky, Kadlec, Krejcl; Lafata.
Subs: Cech, Pamic, Vidlicka, Polom, Janos, Kweuke, Bednar.
Ok, I admit it - I'm as familiar with with the Sparta side as Mark Lawrenson (chortle, chuckle, poke), but conveniently, Chelsea's official site has the SP on who'll begin the game standing where.
Preamble Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
This game will not be this, certainly not if the first leg is owt to go by. But you never know - let's see how it goes, eh?