LONDON (AP) — Although relieved to steer Chelsea through the group stage of the Champions League, Jose Mourinho believes his team will not be feared in the last 16 during this unexpectedly poor season for the club.
A 2-0 victory over Porto on Wednesday, secured by Ivan Marcano's early own goal and Willian's second-half strike, ensured Chelsea avoided the embarrassment of dropping into the Europa League - and instead advanced as Group G winners. Mourinho's former club, Porto, finished third behind Dynamo Kiev to qualify for the second-tier competition.
Chelsea's assured performance — albeit against largely ineffective Portuguese visitors — has been lacking so often in a season when the Premier League title defense has seen the club lose eight out of 15 games.
When it comes to Monday's draw, Mourinho expects Chelsea to be considered as the weakest top seed.
"I think every second (place) team wants to play us," Mourinho said. "They don't want to play Barcelona. They don't want to play Real Madrid. They don't want to play Atletico (Madrid). They don't want to play Bayern."
But Mourinho is also drawing optimism from Chelsea's underdog status. After all, he first won Europe's top prize with an unfancied Porto side in 2004, before repeating the feat with Inter Milan.
"A team that is struggling so much like we are is not obviously a candidate to win the Champions League," Mourinho said.
"But when we won with Porto in 2004 we were not candidate," Mourinho added, referring to himself as "we." ''When we won with Inter in 2010 we were not candidates. When we were candidates we lost two semifinals with Real Madrid and we lost two semifinals with Chelsea. So let's see. We never know."
Winning the Champions League could be Chelsea's only way of returning to next season, given that Mourinho's Premier League champions are already 14 points from the top four in 14th place.
But in this miserable campaign, fortune favored Chelsea after 12 minutes at Stamford Bridge against Porto when Mourinho's decision to restore Costa to the starting lineup was rewarded.
It was the Spain striker's shot from Eden Hazard's through ball that was blocked by goalkeeper Iker Casillas and then cannoned off Marcano into his own net. It initially appeared that Maicon had successfully cleared the ball as he scrambled back but the additional assistant referee eventually ruled it had crossed the line.
But the darker side of Costa was soon evident when he cynically stuck a leg out to trip Casillas and he was booked.
Rather than Chelsea killing off the game, Costa didn't come close to scoring again until the stroke of halftime when he sliced the ball across the face of goal.
"He could have scored two or three goals today," Mourinho said. "His lack of confidence was clear but his attitude was very good and his movement was much better."
The attacking intent required to steady nerves was evident early on in the second half. A stinging shot from Willian went straight at Casillas. When it came to Willian's next shot — again set up by Costa — there was more power and it flew into the net.
Stamford Bridge hasn't had much to cheer this season and owner Roman Abramovich seized the moment. Fist clenched in relief, the Russian billionaire smiled broadly as he celebrated in an executive box.
Now Abramovich just needs Mourinho to arrest Chelsea's Premier League slump. Otherwise Chelsea might not be back in the Champions League next season.