European football is back on the agenda this evening following a two-month break, with the Blues travelling to Sweden to take on Malmo in the first leg of our Europa League last-32 knockout tie.
Our hosts join a long list of Scandinavian sides we have faced down the years, and it’s a part of the world which has played an important role in the club’s European story.
In fact, the very first chapter of that particular story was written in Scandinavia, Denmark to be precise, when we played our maiden European fixture, an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie against BK Frem Copenhagen in 1958.
The inaugural competition, made up of representative XIs, had begun in 1955 and was spread over three years, but by the time we entered the second instalment of the tournament there had been some fine-tuning to the overall structure.
Now taking place over two seasons, rather than three, the majority of representative XIs had been replaced by regular club sides, with Chelsea invited to take the place of a Blues-led London XI, although each team was permitted to use three guest players from other teams in their city, an offer which was politely declined by our manager Ted Drake.
It proved to be a sensible decision as Mike Harrison, who sadly passed away recently, gave us the lead in the away leg, in front of almost 20,000 fans. Despite the fact the home side equalised within two minutes, goals from the outstanding Jimmy Greaves and Tony Nicholas put us in the ascendancy ahead of the return.
Back at the Bridge, Greaves shone once more, netting a brace in a 4-1 victory, but unfortunately the campaign came to an early conclusion when we were beaten by Ville de Belgrade in the next round.
We would have to wait 13 years for our next test against Scandinavian opposition, which came in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, as holders, in 1971/72.
The Blues had won the competition at the end of the previous season when we beat Real Madrid in a replay but our defence of the trophy, which started with a 21-0 aggregate win over Luxembourg part-timers Jeunesse Hautcharage, came to a conclusion at the hands of Swedish side Atvidabergs, who progressed on away goals after a stalemate away from home was followed by a 1-1 draw at the Bridge.
Snow is falling
Perhaps the most memorable of all our matches against Scandinavian opponents was the first leg of a second-round tie in our triumphant Cup Winners’ Cup campaign of 1997/98, against Norwegian side Tromso.
The game was played in treacherous conditions, with sub-zero temperatures and the green of the turf barely visible through sheets of snow. Ruud Gullit’s side had gone into the game as strong favourites, but the conditions proved hugely beneficial for our opponents, who raced into a 2-0 lead inside the opening 20 minutes.
In a dramatic finish to the game, Gianluca Vialli pulled one back late on, before Tromso immediately restored their two-goal advantage. Our Italian striker then slalomed his way through the home side’s snow-ravaged box and drilled a low drive into the bottom corner to reduce the deficit ahead of the second leg.
Gullit’s frustration at the final whistle was clear, with the Dutchman saying: ‘For you to be able to play football you must see some green but there was none out there, only white. They even had to stop play twice to sweep the snow off the lines, that's how bad it was. You cannot call that football.’
Fortunately for Gullit, without a snowflake in sight, the return leg back in London was a far more straightforward affair as we thumped the visitors 7-1, Vialli once again displaying a ruthless streak in front of goal by scoring a hat-trick.
That win over Tromso was followed by further victories against Real Betis and Vicenza when, on one of the great European nights at the Bridge, we fought back from 2-0 down on aggregate to progress to the Cup Winners’ Cup final, with Mark Hughes’ stunning strike completing a dramatic turnaround.
The final was against German opposition in the shape of Stuttgart, who were managed at the time by Joachim Low, although the match itself took place in Scandinavia, with Stockholm’s Rasunda Stadium the venue.
Chelsea fans descended on the Swedish capital in their droves, and when Gianfranco Zola came off the bench to score the only goal of the game with what was only his second touch of the ball, they celebrated wildly. It was our third trophy triumph in little over a year following success in both the FA Cup and League Cup. Having returned to the silverware-acquiring scene domestically, we were now sampling European success once more, ensuring Stockholm will always hold a special place in the affections of our supporters, particularly those who were fortunate enough to be present on that balmy evening in May 1998.
Three in a row
Having won the Cup Winners’ Cup in Stockholm, our defence of the trophy centred heavily around Scandinavia the following season with our first three ties coming against opponents from either Sweden, Denmark or Norway.
A first-leg Frank Leboeuf goal helped us overcome Swedish side Helsingborgs, before we were drawn to play Copenhagen in the next round. A well-taken Marcel Desailly goal in the first leg earned us a 1-1 draw and out in Denmark it was Brian Laudrup who scored his only Chelsea goal to send us through. In a strange twist, it proved to be the atttacker’s final game of a short-lived Blues career as he departed for the club he had just eliminated from the competition.
Having been paired with Norwegian side Valerenga in the quarter-finals, confidence was growing and a 3-0 first-leg victory, secured by goals from Celestine Babayaro, Dennis Wise and Zola, only served to enhance the positive feeling within the camp.
The Blues edged a five-goal thriller in the return, with Bernard Lambourde’s strike proving decisive on the night, meaning we were through to the semi-finals of the tournament for the second consecutive year. However, after drawing 1-1 with Spanish side Mallorca in the first leg of our last-four tie, we suffered a 1-0 reverse out in Spain, with Wise passing up a great opportunity late on to send the game into extra-time, the skipper heading agonisingly wide from close range.
The next time we were drawn to play Scandinavian opposition we were a Champions League side, and the European campaign of 2007/08 opened with a home game against Norwegians Rosenborg.
After falling behind midway through the first half, Andriy Shevchenko rescued a point with a header eight minutes after the restart in a game which proved to be the final fixture of Jose Mourinho’s first spell in charge of the club. Fortunately, the away game, which was played in bitterly cold conditions, proved far less taxing as two goals from Didier Drogba helped us to a 4-0 win. The Blues, under the guidance of Avram Grant, went on to reach the final of the competition for the first time in our history but there was bitter disappointment in the Moscow final as we were beaten on penalties by Manchester United.
Our maiden Champions League meeting with Copenhagen followed in the round of 32 in 2010/11, with the Blues progressing 2-0 on aggregate thanks to a Nicolas Anelka brace in the Danish capital, the first of which came after a misplaced pass by former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer, although once again our ambitions were thwarted by Man United, this time at the quarter-final stage.
You have to go back to the 2012/13 season for our most recent meeting with Scandinavian opposition when, as Champions League holders, we were drawn in a group alongside Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and Danish side Nordsjaelland.
Following a 2-2 draw with the Italian side at Stamford Bridge, our first victory arrived in Denmark against Nordsjaelland, a game which was played in Copenhagen. Juan Mata opened the scoring before three goals in the last 11 minutes, including a superb David Luiz free-kick, wrapped up the points.
When the Danes visited Stamford Bridge in what was the final game of the group stage, they were hit for six, although the result wasn’t enough to secure our progression to the knockout rounds as we were made to pay for defeats away at both Juventus and Shakhtar, subsequently dropping into the Europa League which we would go on to win in Amsterdam courtesy of a dramatic, last-gasp header from Branislav Ivanovic against Benfica.
All in all, our experiences against Scandinavian sides down the years have been largely positive, and let’s hope that continues against Malmo this evening as we return to European action.