Official Chelsea FC Website: "The winning goal capped a promising start for Yuri Zhirkov, Milan having equalised a stunning early strike from Didier Drogba. Once again a bumper crowd watched Chelsea in action in America, this time 71,203 East Coast fans inside the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. They witnessed Chelsea looking good again."
The Baltimore Sun: "It’s probably accurate to say that the final score of Friday’s World Football Challenge match between Chelsea Football Club and AC Milan at M&T Bank Stadium wasn’t particularly important. At least not nearly as important as the selling of "the beautiful game" to American fans, both those in attendance and those watching on television. Officially, Chelsea walked away a 2-1 winner in the exhibition, primarily thanks to a well-struck blast by striker newcomer Yuri Zhirkov in the 69th minute. Zhirkov, the Player of the Year in Russia’s Premier League in 2008, was making his debut for the club after signing a three year, $29 million contract this month. But the sellout crowd of 71,203 just as likely walked away dazzled by a number of balletic plays by Milan striker Ronaldinho or the acrobatic play in the net by Chelsea goalie Petr Cech. On a night when organizers fretted about the weather, the traffic and the prospect of a scoreless tie, Chelsea and Milan delivered a spirited and at times intense contest that featured several flashes of the kind of play-making that has made soccer the most popular sport in the world."
Daily Telegraph: "Chelsea may not have added greatly to their squad this summer – that elusive marquee signing is remaining elusive – but their £18 million man, Yuri Zhirkov, made an immediate impact on his debut in the early hours of this morning here in Baltimore. The Russian international scored the winning goal to defeat AC Milan 2-1 and impressed, playing on the left of midfield, delivering several dangerous crosses. There were also high-quality goals from Didier Drogba and, for Milan, Clarence Seedorf."
I managed to stay awake until around the 80th minute. The first stream I started watching wasn’t very good, so much so that on one occasion I wondered why the player in the dark kit wasn’t challenging the player in the light kit who’d just trotted past him with the ball. Several seconds passed before I realised it was the referee. Poor quality stream or not, I could see enough to know that we were stunningly brilliant… for the opening six minutes or so. Thoughts like "We’re going to walk the league" and "Arsenal schmarsenal" flashed through my mind (I had imbibed several beers by this point). Drogba topped off a splendid opening period of play with a 35 yard screamer. The reaction of the commentators told me that the ball had found the back of Milan’s net. Replays confirmed that it had indeed been a quite spectacular strike. I went looking for a better quality stream.
Drogba’s goal sparked Milan into life. Their midfield of Pirlo, Seedorf and Ronaldinho outplayed ours for long periods. Ronaldinho showed that at 29 years of age he’s still got a lot to give; he was unlucky to strike the woodwork for a second time in two matches from a free kick. The sellout crowd cheered louder every time he touched the ball. Fellow Brazilian Pato also impressed. It would be some feat if Roman could prize him from Milan, but you’d have to say his chances of doing so are slim given that Milan have already sold one superstar for £56m this summer. You never know.
Zhirkov made quite an impact on his debut. There were times when he was a little overwhelmed, but overall he gave every indication of being the real deal. One wonders what Malouda was thinking as he looked on from the bench. Zhirkov topped off his promising debut with a lovely low left-footed strike in the 68th minute, which won us the game. I’m expecting big things from him this season.
It dawned on me during a piece by one of Chelsea TV’s sideline reporters at half time exactly why Shevchenko’s still at the club: he’s a £130,000-a-week translator for Zhirkov. Zhirkov doesn’t speak a word of English. Sheva speaks both English and Italian. The reporter said that Ancelotti spent the first half barking instructions to Sheva who in turn was expected to relay them to Zhirkov on the pitch. Poor Sheva.
Drogba and Anelka linked up well as a front two (could they be the new Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen?), while Cole and Bosingwa were my men of the match. Cole got caught out once early on by Pato but managed to block the Brazilian’s shot and recover to force a free-kick. Bosingwa spent most of the match bombing up the right wing, beating Milan players with relative ease, and putting in dangerous crosses.
That’s three wins out of three in pre-season. Up next in the World Football Challenge are Club America, who have also beaten both Milan sides, Inter on penalties and Milan 2-1 in normal time. Kick-off is midnight tomorrow night. The winner takes all, as it were.
- Reaction: Good atmosphere all round
- Carlo Ancelotti aims to end Chelsea’s identity crisis with a personal touch
- Soccer’s popularity slowly catching up in U.S.
- Yuri Zhirkov’s goal-scoring debut may see Joe Cole left off the pitch