London: Didier Drogba scored two goals as Chelsea gain a 3-0 victory over Valencia that sees them qualify from Group E of the Champions League in top spot and qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday night.
The Ivory Coast striker set Chelsea on its way with a low drive in the third minute, played in Brazil midfielder Ramires for the second in the 22nd and wrapped up victory 14 minutes from the end to demote the Spanish team from the competition into the Europa League.
Needing a victory or a scoring draw to progress at Chelsea’s expense, two-time finalist Valencia was allowed to dominate possession but was stifled by the hosts’ packed defense.
Chelsea advanced to the last 16 for the ninth straight year.
Having reached at least the semifinals of the competition in five of the past eight seasons, Chelsea is rightly regarded as a Champions League heavyweight. But picking up just two points from three away games had left its qualification hopes hanging in the balance for the first time.
Collecting a short inside pass from Juan Mata – who joined Chelsea from Valencia for 30 million (then $43 million) in the offseason – Drogba put the home side ahead by turning Antonio Barragan and driving in a left-footed shot that goalkeeper Diego Alves got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.
It was Drogba’s 35th Champions League goal and the club’s quickest in the competition.
Valencia threatened an immediate equalizer, with Jordi Alba smashing a shot against the post in the fifth minute and captain David Albelda drawing a stunning one-handed save out of Peter Cech in the 10th.
The crowd afforded the striker a standing ovation and rousing applause as he came off for Torres moments later, receiving a handshake and a pat on the back from manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Two Chelsea supporters took their celebrations too far, invading the pitch five minutes from time, but the game was up by then for Valencia.