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Dec 5, 2012

Chelsea out of Champions League

Chelsea became the first title holder to crash out of the Champions League in the group stage Wednesday, despite beating Nordsjaelland 6-1 in its final Group E game at Stamford Bridge.

Juventus finished top of the group by winning 1-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk, which finished second and will also move on to the knockout round. Third-place Chelsea will compete in the Europa League.

It was too little, too late for Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez on Wednesday night as he finally notched a win at his new club but was powerless as the Blues failed to qualify.

The fact that Fernando Torres ended his goal drought in what was an expected romp against Nordsjaelland also was scant consolation for Benitez and the defending European champion.

Torres even scored twice after David Luiz put Chelsea ahead from the spot at the end of a crazy spell of three penalties for handball in seven minutes that saw both Nicolai Stokholm and Eden Hazard miss.

Joshua John did make it 2-1 but Gary Cahill, Juan Mata and substitute Oscar ensured the holders at least bowed out with their biggest Champions League victory and ended their six-match winless streak, three of which were overseen by Benitez.

An own goal saw Juventus go through to the knockout stage. Olexander Kucher inadvertently turned Stephan Lichtsteiner's cross into his own net in the 56th minute, and Juve leapfroged Shakhtar at the top and rendered Chelsea's win meaningless.

Both teams struck the post but Juventus could just about claim to be worthy winners as it had the better of the chances and ensured most of the game was played in Shakhtar territory.

Chelsea fans' reaction to their interim manager during games already has become a cliche, but amid the customary jeers, abuse and protest banners were newer placards declaring, 'Bring Back The Special One.'

Benitez remained positive as attention turned to Europa League glory.

"Can we change the result of the other game? No," the Spaniard said. "Can we change the situation? No. So we have to think about what we can change, which is improving and be ready for the next challenge.

"The game was out of our hands. I said before that we had to do our job and, as a manager, you have to be really pleased with the performance of the team. There were 32 attempts, 18 on target, six goals, a lot of clear chances, so you have to think about the positives after this performance. You also have to be really disappointed because you cannot progress in the Champions League."

For many, the Europa League is seen as an unwanted distraction, which can disrupt domestic form and offers little financial reward.

"The Europa League is not important if you don't win," Benitez said. "When you are in the semifinal or the final, everyone wants to win it. We know that it is an important competition and we want to go as far as we can and if we can win the competition, we will try to do that."

It is debatable whether even Jose Mourinho could manage Torres back to his best, the striker appearing fully aware tonight's game represented his best chance of ending his latest drought.

Indeed, the first half hour was almost all about the Spaniard's quest, whose job against the Group E whipping boys got even easier when Nordsjaelland center back Ivan Runje was carried off injured inside five minutes.

Already without their best defender, the Danish champions almost conceded when down to 10 men but Jesper Hansen held Victor Moses' crisp near-post volley from an Ashley Cole cross on the full back's 100th Champions League appearance.

Mikel Beckmann joined the fray before Torres had the ball in the net, chipping Hansen already having been flagged offside.

He saw another effort saved before at least backing up Benitez's assertion that he was "amazing" at defending corners when one of his clearances set up a lightning break Hazard could not finish.

Hazard threatened again with one of several jinking runs before Torres failed to react to Moses' drilled cross, poked another one-two with Mata straight at Hansen, and fell over attempting an overhead kick.

Nordsjaelland captain Stokholm almost showed him the way when he smashed Moses' cross against his own crossbar before the visitors tried their luck at the right end through Kasper Lorentzen and Enoch Adu.

Their adventure was dramatically rewarded in the 31st minute when referee Bas Nijhuis judged Cahill to have handled Anders Christiansen's shot on the edge of the area. Chelsea protested but it did not matter as Petr Cech guessed right to keep out Stokholm's penalty.

After Torres' latest weak finish was deflected wide, Cahill got his revenge when his header from the resulting corner hit the arm of Beckmann. Incredibly, Hazard's weak penalty was also saved.

Even more incredibly, Nijhuis awarded a third spot kick for handball moments later when Patrick Mtiliga blocked Mata's shot. This time, Luiz took charge, firing the ball high into the net.

The Torres show then resumed with an errant diving header before he finally found the net in stoppage time.

There were echoes of his last -- lucky -- goal against Shakhtar as his finish from Moses' ball in behind hit Hansen and rebounded back off the striker, who accidentally trod on the keeper before gobbling up the rebound.

Torres' strike was canceled out straight after halftime when John got in behind Branislav Ivanovic to lift Lorentzen's ball over the advancing Cech.

But Cahill restored the advantage five minutes later when he hung in the air to loop a superb header into the corner of the net from Mata's free kick.

Five minutes after that, Torres finally scored a goal that owed nothing to luck, brilliantly finishing off a sweeping break by poking in Hazard's cutback.

Any joy was tempered by the news Juve had taken the lead in Donetsk -- in defiance of the "Come on Shakhtar" chants from Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea continued to attack and Torres was denied a penalty before Mata beat Hansen at the second attempt after a one-two with Hazard.

Torres had two penalty appeals turned down either side of Oscar entering the fray to finish smartly after being played through by Mata for his fifth Champions League goal in six games.

Luiz picked up a booking for a foul on Nordsjaelland substitute Kamal Issah to earn a one-match ban.

Already having gone close with a free kick, Oscar saw another shot saved. Moses shanked a header and Torres failed to chip Hansen for his hat trick but it was goals elsewhere Chelsea and Benitez needed.

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