Zhirkov's Debut Goal Enough As Chelsea Sneak Past A.C. Milan

Chelsea debutant Yuri Zhirkov's well struck goal in the 69th minute was enough to see Chelsea past A.C. Milan 2-1 in a spirited match in Baltimore.
BALTIMORE -- In front of a crowd of 71,203 in M&T Bank Stadium, Chelsea and A.C. Milan produced a well played match, which saw three goals. Chelsea striker Didier Drogba gave Chelsea the lead in the seventh minute, only for Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf to equalize in the 38th minute.

Milan welcomed Brazilian striker Pato back to the team, as he joined the club following an extended vacation for his honeymoon. For Chelsea, Russian winger Zhirkov made his first appearance for Chelsea in the form of his first start.

First Half

Chelsea opened the match the stronger side and had two chances early on to take the lead. Midfielder Juliano Belletti tried his luck from distance, but Milan 'keeper Zeljko Kalac was able to parry the shot away. Moments later, Drogba was gifted a chance from a terrific cross from Belletti, but the Ivorian striker could not steer his close range header on target.

In the seventh minute, Drogba atoned for his miss by scoring a wonderful goal from thirty yards out. Having received the ball in the middle of the field from John Terry, Drogba took advantage of the time and space that Milan conceded him. After settling himself, he unleashed an unstoppable shot, beating Kalac to give Chelsea the 1-0 lead.

After being played off the pitch for the opening stanza of the match, Milan began to earn a foothold in the game and began to create several dangerous moments. Milan won a corner in the 19th minute, which was played short to Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo's shot from the corner of the box was saved by the feet of Chelsea's keeper Petr Cech. The ball then popped up nicely for Ronaldinho, who tried an outrageous bicycle kick, only to have his effort blocked by his own teammate.

Play between the two teams began to settle, slowing from the up tempo pace that the game began with. Chances started to thin out, but Milan had another good opportunity when striker Marco Borriello laid a ball back for Seedorf in the box. With Cech out of goal, Seedorf attempted an audacious chip, but saw his effort headed off the line by Branislav Ivanovic.

Not to be deterred, Seedorf eventually scored the goal to level the game in the 38th minute. Defender Gianluca Zambrotta placed a pass in the middle of the field, near the box for Ronaldinho. With ease, Ronaldinho left a pass for Seedorf, who thundered home an effort from just outside the box, comprehensively beating Cech.

Without much action for the rest of the half, the teams went into halftime after one minute of stoppage time with the game level at one a piece.

Second Half

The second half started at a similar pace to the first half -- with each team having a chance to take the lead early on.

Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard made a crucial pass to Drogba outside the box, near the Milan goal. Drogba then threaded a pass into the box for fellow striker Nicolas Anelka. Anelka got onto the pass and rolled a shot towards the far post that had Kalac beat. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the ball rolled past the post, denying Chelsea the lead.

Moments later, it was A.C. Milan who nearly had the lead. Seedorf and Ronaldinho combined to play a quick one-two pass sequence, which ended in Ronaldinho playing a backheel to Seedorf. The ball sat up nicely for Seedorf, but his volley was just a bit too high, resulting in a goal kick instead of a goal.

There was another goal line clearance in the 62nd minute, as Zhirkov had a header from a Lampard corner cleared off the line. But Zhirkov's effort on the night was not in vain as, seven minutes later, he fired home the go ahead goal. Andriy Shevchenko, who came on for Anelka, worked himself into the box, before challenging Kalac. Kalac was able to parry the shot, but only into the path of Lampard. Lampard had a go himself, but his shot was blocked, and then the ball fell to Zhirkov. The Russian made no mistakes, beating Kalac at the near post from just outside the box.

From there, the game lost the flow and excitement that kept the fans entertained up to that point, as each team began to make substitutions. These breaks in play meant a fractured flow to the game, as each team had to adjust to bringing on new players.

Any excitement that was lost in the final twenty minutes, though, was made up in the four minutes of stoppage time.

Substitute Ignazio Abate sent a terrific cross into the middle of the box, looking for fellow substitute Filippo Inzaghi. Inzaghi rose up and met the ball with a well placed header, forcing Cech to make a save while diving back towards his goal. Moments later, two of Milan's other substitutes nearly combined to find another equalizer. Defender Marek Jankulovski sent an inviting cross into the box, which found the head of Oguchi Onyewu, but Onyewu's header bounced just wide of the post, having failed to challenge Cech.

Lampard then had a chance to seal the deal for Chelsea late on, but his shot from inside of the box was just wide of the post.

After an exciting four minutes of stoppage time that failed to produce the goal it deserved, the game ended in victory for Chelsea, 2-1.

Steven Streff, Goal.com