LADIES REPORT: CHELSEA 3 SYDNEY FC 2
Chelsea Ladies are into Sunday's International Women's Club Championship final after defeating Australian champions Sydney in Japan on Wednesday.
Despite being put under early pressure, Chelsea broke the deadlock in the first half thanks to a stunning long-range striker from midfielder Laura Coombs, before a quick-fire double in the second period courtesy of Eniola Aluko and captain Yuki Ogimi made the victory certain.
Renee Rollason converted a free-kick for Sydney in the closing stages, before Jodie Taylor added a second nine minutes from time to set up a tense finale, but Chelsea held firm and will now face Japanese side INAC Kobe Leonessa in Sunday's Tokyo final.
Ladies manager Emma Hayes had a full squad of 17 to choose from. Her only fitness doubt, Hannah Blundel, was deemed fit to play and started at left-back.
In her own country, Ogimi, a Ballon d'Or nominee, captained the side, and was supported in attack by England internationals Aluko and Rachel Williams, who was making her Chelsea debut alongside former Birmingham City team-mate Laura Bassett.
Allie Long, on loan from Portland Thorns, and triallist Emma Wilhelmsson also started for the Blues against a Sydney side which came through its quarter-final with a 1-0 win over Japanese side NTV Beleza.
Sydney, for whom this is a mid-season competition as opposed to pre-season for Chelsea, were the quicker into their rhythm and exerted early pressure which the Blues, in white, did well to withstand.
A Jodie Taylor header dropped wide of Marie Hourihan's right-hand post, and then a rangy drive flew just wide to the left before Chelsea had even made it into the Australians' half, but smart link-up play from Ogimi and Blundell created a decent opportunity for 17-year-old Rosella Ayane, whose shot was well saved by Sydney goalkeeper Casey Du Mont.
Leena Khamis then missed a sitter for Sydney after Hourihan had saved a header, smashing the ball over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box, and it took a fantastic tackle from Long to prevent another opportunity at the half-hour mark.
Khamis headed an inswinging Ellyse Perry free-kick just wide and then Taylor shot across the face of goal as Sydney remained on top.
Chelsea had not yet shown their class too often, but it shone through clearly when we took the lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
A passing move involving Danni Buet, Aluko and Ayane eventually ended up at the feet of midfielder Laura Coombs, who shifted the ball onto her left foot and unleashed a fantastic low drive into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Sydney responded well and almost found a leveller, only for Taylor's header to bounce on top of the crossbar before being diverted away by Blundell on the line. It was to be the final chance of a half where Chelsea had been second best, but had scored a vital first goal.
Chelsea began the second half well, and forced the decent chance of the half when Aluko crossed from the right, picking out the powerful Williams, who headed just over.
Ogimi then sensed an opportunity at a free-kick after Williams had been fouled, bending the ball onto the crossbar, from where it bounced back out to Aluko and the England international made no mistake from 18 yards, smashing home into the bottom corner to double the lead for Hayes's side.
Things would get even better five minutes later when Williams split the Sydney defence with an excellent through ball, allowing Ogimi to race through, round the goalkeeper and slot home a third goal to seemingly take the game out of Sydney's reach.
The Australians forced a couple of half chances in response but could not muster the clear opportunity to get them back into the context. Hourihan was forced into one flying save after a shot from distance and then comfortably held a header from a corner, which had been Sydney's main source of joy.
As time ticked away, Sydney began their comeback, as first Renee Rollason rifled home a free-kick from distance and then Jodie Taylor delicately chipped into the net after being inexplicably awarded an indirect free-kick inside the Chelsea box.
Chelsea had to hold firm and survived a couple of hairy moments before Ogimi broke away down the left and crossed for Aluko, who forced a diving save from Du Mont to keep her side in the contest.
Aluko was replaced by Laura Rafferty in injury time, and the sub almost scored within seconds, seeing her shot bounce just wide of the far post, but importantly, Chelsea held on to secure a place in Tokyo, and now have a few days to prepare for an even greater test.
Chelsea Ladies: Marie Hourihan; Danni Buet, Emma Wilhelmsson, Laura Bassett, Hannah Blundell; Rosella Ayane (Drew Spence 80), Laura Coombs, Allie Long, Rachel Williams (Jodie Brett 80), Eniola Aluko (sub Laura Rafferty 90); Yuki Ogimi (c).
Unused subs: Mai Hanno, Aya Noguchi, Megan Sargeant,.
Goals Coombs 37, Aluko 52, Ogimi 57