Damaging night for Inter, Chelsea in Europa League
LONDON (AP) — Steaua Bucharest revived memories of its glory days in the 1980s by beating European champion Chelsea 1-0, while the prolific Gareth Bale inflicted more damage on Inter Milan to put Tottenham on the brink of the Europa League quarterfinals.
It was a chastening night for two recent winners of the Champions League in the last-16 first legs, with Chelsea slumping to a deserved loss in Bucharest when Raul Rusescu converted a 34th-minute penalty for Steaua.
Inter produced an even more inept display as Bale scored one goal and set up another for Jan Vertonghen in a 3-0 win for Spurs, tormenting the Italian side like he did three years ago in the Champions League when he first grabbed the attention of the footballing world.
Lazio and Basel will take 2-0 leads into the second legs of their matches against Stuttgart and Zenit St. Petersburg, respectively, while Benfica and Fenerbahce were also winners on Thursday.
The games between Anzhi Makhachkala-Newcastle and Levante-Rubin Kazan are delicately poised at 0-0.
Though it has never reached the same level again, Steaua was once a major force in Europe, winning the European Cup in 1986, reaching the same semifinals in 1988 before losing the 1989 final to AC Milan.
It was another memorable European night for the Romanian club on Thursday, hounding Chelsea into mistakes after receiving passionate backing by a record crowd of 55,000 in the National Arena and grabbing the winner after Rusescu was shoved in the back by Ryan Bertrand.
The center forward picked himself up and drilled home his spot kick.
Chelsea, which dropped into the Europa League after an unprecedented early exit from the Champions League group stage, was way below its best and the limp loss will pile more pressure on beleaguered interim coach Rafa Benitez — a figure of hate among many of the club's disgruntled fans this season.
"We are disappointed because we conceded a goal with a soft penalty and had one or two chances to score," Benitez said. "This result means we have to win at home and we have to push together."
Steaua, which is 12 points clear in the Romanian league, eliminated Ajax in the last 32.
Bale starred again for Tottenham by taking his tally to 11 in his past nine games in all competitions but it was a dominant team display, with Inter lucky not to come away from White Hart Lane with a heavier beating.
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