CHELSEA manager Jose Mourinho refused to blame Eden Hazard last night after the midfielder’s late penalty miss cost them victory over the least fancied team in their Champions League group.
Nemanja Matic dragged the visitors level after Agim Ibraimi had given Maribor a shock lead but Hazard, having won the spot-kick himself, failed to wrap up the three points when his tame shot saved by the outstanding Jasmin Handanovic.
It means Chelsea’s fate will go to the final matchday unless they win at Schalke later this month, though Mourinho insisted Hazard was not the scapegoat and hailed the effervescent Belgian as his man of the match.
“When a player plays as well as Eden Hazard did -- for me he was absolutely fantastic, by far the best player of my team -- the player with a performance like this can miss a penalty and still be the best player in my team,” he said. “I think we deserved to win. We paid the price of a not good first half in the second half their goalkeeper was fantastic.”
Maribor banished memories of last month’s 6-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge with a vibrant display.
Striker Tavares served Chelsea a warning when he burst through but wasted a one-on-one, and Ibraimi beat Petr Cech just after half-time with a dreamy curler from 20 yards.
Luka Zahovic missed a tap-in for the hosts moments later, but Chelsea were laying siege and Diego Costa and Oscar – thrown on by Mourinho at half-time – together with Didier Drogba all missed the target before Matic stabbed in John Terry’s goalbound header from a corner to preseve the Blues’ unbeaten start to the season.
Hazard was a dervish, bent on conjuring a winner, using a one-two with Oscar to slice through Maribor, setting up Costa to rip a volley and then, with five minutes left, winning the penalty with a twisting run, only to be thwarted each time by Handanovic.
It was a rare blip for Hazard who is usually reliable from the spot, with the 23-year-old holding an enviable record of 27 converted penalties from a total of 30 in his career so far.