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Friday, Nov. 23, 2012

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Another one bites the dust: Manager Roberto Di Matteo was fired by Chelsea on Wednesday over its poor showing in the Champions League this season. AFP-JIJI

Chelsea fires Di Matteo, brings in Benitez as interim manager


LONDON — Chelsea surprisingly brought Rafael Benitez out of the coaching wilderness on Wednesday, hiring the Spaniard in an interim role after mercilessly firing the man who guided the club to its first Champions League title just six months ago.

Benitez agreed to a contract with the European champions until the end of the season, nearly two years after being fired by Inter Milan in his last coaching position. He filled the vacancy created by Roberto Di Matteo's sudden departure earlier in the day following the team's dip in form over the past month.

Tuesday's 3-0 loss to Juventus proved to be Di Matteo's final match in charge, the result in Turin leaving Chelsea third in its Champions League group and in danger of becoming the first holders to fail to reach the knockout stage.

"I am extremely proud of the successes and trophies that we were able to bring to the club in recent months," said Di Matteo, who also won the F.A. Cup last season during his spell as interim coach before being taken on full-time in June.

"Lifting Chelsea's first Champions League trophy, in Munich, was the best achievement in club history and without doubt the highlight of my career to date, both as a player and manager. It is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life."

Di Matteo's exit was another demonstration of the ruthlessness of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is up to his ninth manager since buying the club in 2003.

The 52-year-old Benitez comes with experience, having also been in charge of Valencia and Liverpool — the club where he won the Champions League in 2005 and took it to the 2007 final. Chelsea fans will be concerned about Benitez's record at Inter, where he lasted barely six months, and also his style of play, which is widely regarded as defensive.

"The owner and the board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives," Chelsea said in a statement.

Real Madrid moves on


FRANKFURT — Real Madrid and AC Milan, with 16 Champions League titles between them, advanced to the knockout stage on Wednesday, along with Borussia Dortmund and Schalke to make it three out of three teams from Germany.

Nine-time champion Madrid held on for a 1-1 draw at Manchester City with 10 men, eliminating the English Premier League champion in the process. Also in Group D, Dortmund beat Ajax 4-1 to go through as the top team.

Seven-time winner Milan got a spectacular overhead goal from defender Philippe Mexes as it went through with a 3-1 win at 10-man Anderlecht. Malaga drew 2-2 at Zenit St. Petersburg to win Group C.

Schalke defeated Olympiakos 1-0 and Arsenal beat Montpellier 2-0 to progress out of Group B.

Paris Saint-Germain won 2-0 at Dynamo Kiev to go through from Group A with FC Porto, which beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0. Zagreb still hasn't scored a goal, let alone earned a point.

The goal of the day belonged to Mexes against Anderlecht.

Receiving a free kick outside the box with his back to the goal, Mexes sent a perfectly executed overhead kick from 20 meters out that dipped over goalkeeper Silvio Proto and into the far corner.

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