The Premier League’s player of the year Eden Hazard gave a master class as team of the year Chelsea defeated Sydney FC 1-0 at ANZ Stadium.
Before a crowd of 83,598, just 235 short of the reconfigured ground record, Hazard was dominant.
The Sky Blues were well aware of the Belgian’s prowess, but no amount of Hazard warnings could have prepared them for the virtuoso performance he turned on before a massive gate twice as big as Chelsea’s home capacity at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard’s speed, touch, feints, sleight of foot and passing, long and short, were simply dazzling.
In fact the only way Sydney defender Seb Ryall could stop him was to bring him down, earning the game’s only yellow card.
Yet Sydney FC could hold their heads high, giving a spirited effort against England’s Premier League champions just four days after losing by the same margin to Tottenham.
In the end this was a match that had Hazard’s dominance stamped all over it.
The only difference on the scoreboard came from a stunning strike on the half-hour mark from Loic Remy.
The Frenchman cut inside on the edge of the box and curled a searing left-foot strike inside the far post that gave goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic no chance.
Hazard created several clear-cut chances, and Remy would have had a second if Alex Gersbach had not headed off his line.
Spanish striker Diego Costa proved a handful for Sydney’s defence too before injury forced him off after 40 minutes.
Costa showed the form that delivered him a 20-goal EPL season, embarking on several solo runs that at times left Sydney’s defenders mesmerised.
The Sky Blues did manage to fashion chances of their own.
Alex Gersbach beat his man wide on the left only for Robert Stambolziev to fluff his lines; Chris Naumoff and Alex Brosque shared a double effort only to be denied by goalkeeper Peter Cech; and centre-back Branislav Ivanovic and Terry Antonis forced a couple of sharp saves from the custodian.
But they could find no way through the defences of the EPL champions, marshalled superbly by captain John Terry.
Two minutes from time the big crowd thought Sydney had found an equaliser when Ryall poked the ball into the net after a goalmouth scramble from a corner, but the effort was disallowed for hand-ball.
Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold said of Hazard: “Oh my God, what a player.
“It’s just ridiculous what he can do. I really enjoyed watching him.
“You can have the best tactics in the world but quality (like that) is everything.
“It’s quality that only some clubs can buy, not A-League clubs.”
Terry Antonis described Hazard as “amazing – one of the best players in the world”.
“He was just too quick, especially on the ball, no matter how many players were around him.
“Playing face to face on the same pitch was a massive high, especially for me as a Chelsea supporter.”
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho said the A-League had a bright future if it continued going in the right direction.
Sydney FC had good young players, a good coach and stability in the team, although Australian football simply didn’t have players of the technical ability of Hazard or Costa.
He was impressed by goalkeeper Janjetovic, left-back Gersbach and, in a reference to Antonis, “the one who kicked Hazard three times in 10 minutes”.
Asked about London press reports that Costa was unhappy with English weather and food, and wanted to return to Spain, Mourinho said: “He is the happiest guy in our dressing room. If that is his unhappiness, then I’m happy that he’s unhappy.” Arnold said he couldn’t be prouder of his team.
“We had three great chances in the last five minutes, and nine out of 10 refs would have given that (disallowed goal).
“Sydney FC have shown again we are the biggest club in the country and lead the way in the A-League.”