Play-off XI

Eight nations are competing in the play-offs for the final four European spots at next year's World Cup. More importantly, which former Blues make up our composite XI from these countries?

Over the course of the next six days the two-legged ties will take place to settle the remainder of UEFA's 14 representatives at the tournament in Russia next June.

The play-offs begin tonight (Thursday) with Northern Ireland v Switzerland and Croatia hosting Greece, before Italy travel to Switzerland on Friday and Denmark host the Republic of Ireland a day later.

With no Greek former Blues, that left us with seven countries from which to put together our play-off line-up...

Carlo Cudicini is a shoe-in between the sticks. Although the Italian never got the call from his national team - he did have Gigi Buffon standing in his way – Blues fans will never forget the myriad world-class saves he pulled off during his time as a player at the club.

 One of the more straightforward saves made by Carlo Cudicini

We've decided to mirror the formation favoured by the current Chelsea side, which means three players at the back. Two Irishman earn a place in defence: Paddy Mulligan and John Dempsey. The duo helped us to Cup Winners' Cup glory in 1971 against the mighty Real Madrid, with Dempsey netting a stunning volley in the replay. And with the final played in Athens, it also gives us a Greek connection for our play-off XI.

Completing the defence is Willi Steffen, whose backstory is the most intriguing of our side. A fighter pilot during World War Two, the Swiss international came over to London after the war and his English teacher just so happened to be the wife of then Blues boss Billy Birrell. He signed as an amateur and spent once season at the Bridge before returning home.

 Swiss star Willi Steffen lining up for the Blues

Our two wing-backs are as attacking as they come: Danish speed merchant Jesper Gronkjaer on one flank and Irishman Damien Duff on the other. Prior to the pair becoming team-mates in the first season of the Abramovich era, Gronkjaer scored the goal which helped secure Champions League football for the Blues after a three-year absence. Duff then played a key role in the 4-3-3 system which Chelsea employed to devastating effect in back-to-back Premier League title wins.

 Jesper Gronkjaer celebrates his memorable goal against Liverpool in 2003

In midfield we've got an interesting mix. Another Dane, Nils Middelboe, will hold a special place in our history as the first foreign international to sign for Chelsea, representing the club with distinction either side of World War One. He combined his Blues career with a lucrative job as a banker.

 Nils Middelboe made history for the Blues as our first foreign international signing

Alongside Middelboe are a pair who made a habit of scoring spectacular goals. The versatile Croatian international Mario Stanic marked his Chelsea debut against West Ham in 2000 with a spot of keepy-uppy before smashing home a volley. And do we even need to remind you of Italian ace Roberto Di Matteo's thumping effort after 42 seconds of the 1997 FA Cup final? He also netted in the 1998 League Cup and 2000 FA Cup finals to underline his status as a Chelsea cup king.

 Roberto Di Matteo set us on the way to FA Cup glory in 1997

In attack, Gianfranco Zola would merit a place in most fans' all-time Chelsea XI, let alone this play-off selection. To keep it short, much like the man himself, he could do things on a football pitch most mere mortals could only dream of. Has there ever been a more universally loved footballer?

 Mario Stanic scored one stunning goal for Chelsea; Gianfranco Zola netted too many to mention

Accompanying Zola is the lesser-known Joe Bambrick, who once netted a double hat-trick for Northern Ireland, a feat that has never been bettered by a British player. He netted 38 times for the Blues in the Thirties and scored our goal in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal in front of 82,905 fans, which remains the highest attendance for a game at Stamford Bridge.