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Feb 22, 2013

Benitez defends misfiring Torres

Chelsea had to wait until the 91st minute before Eden Hazard could guarantee their place in the next round of the UEFA Europa League

Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez is confident Fernando Torres is in good form despite the striker missing a number of opportunities to score in the Blues' 1-1 Europa League draw with Sparta Prague on Thursday.

• Delaney at Stamford Bridge
• Blog: Hazard rescues Chelsea

Torres, 28, spurned a number of first-half chances in front of goal and his woes were only spared by Eden Hazard's injury-time winner at Stamford Bridge which ensured Chelsea's progression to the last-16 of the competition.

The Spaniard has scored 15 goals for the Blues this season but has been widely criticised for failing to reach the heights of his Liverpool career

But Benitez, who has regularly defended Torres, believes the striker should be judged on his overall performances rather than the number of goals he scores.

"He didn't play badly tonight," Benitez said. "You can analyse a striker for the number of goals he scores. Maybe you're right. But he did a great job for the team tonight. It's not easy against a team playing deep, but he was winning the ball in the air, bringing options for those around him.

"I thought he was playing well. I disagree he was playing badly. But of course we want him to take the chances that come his way. If he continues working like today and playing like he did today, he will score goals. I'm convinced about that.

"We could be talking about Fernando not scoring goals, and he had four chances. But he had four chances. Let's turn it into a positive. I've seen him in games not having these chances because he's not in the right position.

"Today the goalkeeper stopped him and he missed some. It wasn't the situation where the striker disappeared. Are we disappointed he didn't score? Yes, we are. But he was still giving his all to the team."

Chelsea captain John Terry was critical of his side following the draw, but insists the pain of Champions League elimination provides added incentive to lift the Europa League crown this year.

"We were very disappointed to be out the Champions League and to be watching it Wednesday and Tuesday nights," Terry told ESPN. "It's disappointing but that's enough motivation for us to kick on in this competition. We're in it to win it and nothing changes from that.

"We're disappointed with the way we started that but we're delighted to go through. We left it as late as we could and sometimes that's the best way, but not our best performance but we're in the next round so we're happy with that.

"They had two counter-attacks in the last five minutes, which is not what we wanted at all. As I say, we're disappointed. It's not the best but we're through and we're happy with that."

Meanwhile, Benitez admits he had a difficult time replacing Oscar with Hazard in the 67th minute, but was always confident the Belgium international could punish a tired Sparta defence.

"Hazard has quality and ability and we knew he could make the difference in the end," he said. "It was not easy to pick anyone to come off. We decided Oscar because Victor (Moses) could give us width on the right and Hazard on the left.

"They were playing deep, so we wanted to stretch them. But we did well. We had 22 attempts and clear chances. We didn't score until the end, but we had 60 per cent of the possession and did well.

"We made two or three mistakes and gave them opportunities to counter, but we still did enough to deserve to go through."

Sparta coach Vitezslav Lavicka was gallant in defeat and praised the 3,000-strong away supporters.

"We played a great match," Lavicka said. "We came with a 1-0 deficit but we did the maximum to qualify. In the end we just didn't make it, but such is football.

"We were helped by the fans who were just amazing. It was a great trip for them to come to Stamford Bridge and we hope they enjoyed it."

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.

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