Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo believes last night’s Champions League success will go down as a significant moment in the club’s history.
The west Londoners overcame the odds at Stamford Bridge to progress to the quarter-finals, overcoming a 3-1 first-leg defeat in Napoli to go through 5-4 on aggregate after extra-time.
Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard – the men the sacked Andre Villas-Boas seemed so determined to discard – proved just how difficult they would be to replace with a goal each in a thrilling win.
Although Gokhan Inler netted for Napoli at 2-0, Branislav Ivanovic settled the tie on the stroke of half-time in extra-time on a night every bit as historic as Chelsea captain Terry had predicted.
“For the club, you know, it meant a lot,” said interim boss Di Matteo, who ran on to the pitch to embrace the Chelsea players on the final whistle.
“To still be able to play in the Champions League, and also you could see how much it meant to the players.
“I think everybody was very happy and delighted that we managed to stay in the Champions League after putting on such a big performance tonight.
“I’ve had some great nights, I have to say, but I think it will probably go down in the club’s history.
“To have come back from a two-goal deficit from the first leg and you saw the players tonight, how they performed.
“They showed passion, that they care about the team, the club, the supporters. We gave us a big boost going forward.”
Di Matteo has overseen an impressive change in fortunes at Chelsea since being handed the reins until the end of the season.
The 4-1 defeat of Napoli continues his 100% start to life at the Stamford Bridge helm, although he refused to take any personal acclaim for the upturn in fortunes.
“The home advantage was on our side tonight,” Di Matteo said.
“Napoli are probably stronger at home than away from home, even though they are very dangerous with the transition.
“I think our supporters helped us win the game tonight as well and we just tried to go back to basics.
“We tried to be solid, not concede goals and we’re always confident in the quality we have in the team to score goals ourselves. Every win will increase the confidence of the team.
“We needed to find that team spirit tonight. We needed to play as a group and sacrifice ourselves.
“For me, in my position at the moment, I am just trying to win match after match so what happens after is not important. I am just focused on the games now.
“I don’t really think about myself. I am just focused on trying to win games for Chelsea Football Club and trying to get the best out of the players.
“We have got three wins in three games now, conceded one goal, scored seven, and that is all my mind is focused on.”
While Di Matteo struck a relieved figure, counterpart Walter Mazzarri tried to remain upbeat after Napoli’s exit from the competition.
“Well, of course it is a big disappointment for us, especially with the way we lost tonight,” he said.
“I was happy with the performance of my team and I think it has been a great achievement to have reached this point in the competition.
“So I can only compliment the team, but tonight everything went wrong from the start very start when [Christian] Maggio got injured and we had to replace him.
“We probably paid for the inexperience of some of the players at both ends of the pitch.
“Anyway, I think it is a lesson for us we can take into the future as we have a young team.
“We can learn from this experience but the only disappointment is we could not give any more joy to our fans in the future.”