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Hazard's final act at the Bridge keeps Chelsea hopes alive

Chelsea 1 Ein Frankfurt 1

Mission accomplished: Eden Hazard clips home the decisive penalty in the shoot-out
Mission accomplished: Eden Hazard clips home the decisive penalty in the shoot-out
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri

By Nick Purewal

Eden Hazard fired Chelsea into an all-English Europa League final against Arsenal with perhaps his last-ever kick at Stamford Bridge.

The Belgian forward dispatched the decisive penalty as Chelsea edged out Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 in a shoot-out that followed a 1-1 draw in west London.

Kepa Arrizabalaga produced two fine saves to spare Cesar Azpilicueta's blushes, as the Blues captain missed his own spot-kick.

Kepa saved Martin Hinteregger's penalty with his knees before palming away a good effort from Gonzalo Pacienca as the Blues set up a showdown with London rivals Arsenal in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 29.

Should Hazard's reported big-money transfer to Real Madrid materialise this summer, the 28-year-old will have capped his Stamford Bridge tenure in the most dramatic of fashions.

Spanish stopper Kepa joined Hazard in the hero's corner, and that after proving the villain of Chelsea's shoot-out loss to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final back in February.

From refusing to be replaced that day as Chelsea lost 4-3 to City on spot-kicks, now Kepa is the toast of west London following two fine penalty saves.

"Penalties are down to luck. Today we won and in the Carabao Cup final we lost, but this is football. Today was really good and we played against a very difficult team and we are very happy," said Kepa.

"We always prepare for the penalty shooters before each game and today we are lucky.

"Wembley is in the past and I learned form it.

"I said I was sorry but we always keep moving forward and today was another game and we are happy to get to the final.

"Our season was a little bit difficult but we have reached two finals and we have qualified for the Champions League so I think it's a good season. Now we will have a strong London derby with Arsenal in Baku."

Ruben Loftus-Cheek's fine goal had initially put Chelsea in control, only for Luka Jovic to tuck away his 10th goal of the Europa League campaign.

Hazard conjured up an impetuous assist for Loftus-Cheek's 10th goal of the season, but Eintracht forced the game into extra time - with the scores 1-1 on the night, 2-2 on aggregate and level on away goals after 180 minutes of action.

A microcosm of Chelsea's season and Maurizio Sarri's tetchy Stamford Bridge reign in a single contest, the Blues bossed the first half only to tumble from that perch after the break.

Cesar Azpilicueta thought he had won it when bundling the ball across the line, only for the goal to be chalked off for a foul on Eintracht keeper Kevin Trapp.

When the game slipped into the lottery of penalties, however, Hazard saved Chelsea once again.

Sarri confessed he didn't watch the last penalties so didn't see whether they were good saves from Kepa.

"I think we played a very good first half and then we got into trouble after the break," he said.

"We conceded a goal in 10 minutes of panic.

"We were better in the last part of the match but we were tired in extra time and it was difficult. We started with three injuries and picked up two more during the match after we lost Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, so it wasn't easy but we are now in the final."

Hazard added: "We played a great game but the semi-final is not so easy.

"We are happy and we will go to Baku to try to win the trophy."

This is Chelsea's first major European final since the 2013 Europa League, when they beat Benfica 2-1 under manager Rafael Benitez.

This is the first time that all four places in the Champions League/European Cup and Europa League/Uefa Cup finals will be filled by one country.

And there will also be an all-English Uefa Super Cup in Istanbul on Wednesday, August 14.

The last all-English final in the Uefa Cup or Europa League was in 1972 when Tottenham beat Wolves 3-2 on aggregate.

Belfast Telegraph


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