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Football: No hilarity for Chelsea as Cech breaks his skull; Blues dift with third-choice cat facing Barca test.

Byline: By Ian Coyne

THE injuries to Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini picked up against Reading on Saturday have left Chelsea with the prospect of facing European champions Barcelona with Hilario in goal and Bet365 make the little-known Portuguese keeper 7-4 to keep a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Despite the stand-in custodian's name it is no laughing matter for Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho that his team go into the latest in a series of Champions League clashes with Frank Rijkaard's side not only missing the outstanding Cech but also his more-than-able deputy Cudicini, who followed his colleague to the casualty unit after being knocked out in a later clash.

Boylesports, who were already betting on the hotly-awaited duel between the champions of England and Spain before Chelsea's bad-tempered outing at the Madejski, have reacted to news that the untried Hilario will be between the sticks for the home side by easing them to 11-8 from 6-5 for victory.

Barca, who were available to back at 21-10 in the original prices, have hardened to 15-8 with the firm.

Hilario, who joined Chelsea in the summer from Portuguese club Nacional, was Porto's keeper when Manchester United beat Porto 4-0 at Old Trafford in the Champions League quarter-finals in 1997.

Cech yesterday had surgery for a depressed skull fracture.

And, while Cudicini was released from hospital on Saturday evening after being knocked unconscious in a goalmouth collision late in the game, the possibility that Chelsea will have to negotiate a series of matches without either of their two best stoppers has ramifications for their chances of trying to win a third consecutive Premiership.

Chelsea have league games against Portsmouth (home), Sheffield United (away) and Spurs (away) coming up, and are best at 1-2 or the league.

Andrei Shevchenko's run without a goal has stretched to eight games after he failed to score against the Royals, and the out-of-touch Blues striker is 14-5 with Hills to find the net against Barca in fewer minutes than it takes Wayne Rooney to score for United against Copenhagen at Old Trafford tomorrow.

Rooney, who will be looking to end an eight-game goal drought for club and country, can be backed at 7-4.

Benfica, 12-5 to beat Celtic at Parkhead in group F tomorrow, have an injury crisis. Winger Paulo Jorge picked up a knee problem in the 4-0 defeat of Uniao Leiria on Saturday and joins injured Greek midfielder Giorgios Karagounis (calf) and playmaker Rui Costa (thigh) on the sidelines.

Hills - to score earliest goal: 7-4 W Rooney, 14-5 A Shevchenko, evens neither score or both score at same time.

CAPTION(S):

Petr Cech receives treatment at Reading on Saturday before undergoing surgery for a depressed skull fracture yesterday' Hilario: Little-known
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 16, 2006
Words:457
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