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Chelsea ride luck to set up Barca clash

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Chelsea's Fernando Torres (2nd right) takes on Benfica's Conceicao Emerson (right) and Francisco Javi Garcia during the UEFA Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, London. Photo: Press Association

Chelsea's Fernando Torres (2nd right) takes on Benfica's Conceicao Emerson (right) and Francisco Javi Garcia during the UEFA Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, London. Photo: Press Association

Javi Garcia of Benfica scores during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Benfica at Stamford Bridge

Javi Garcia of Benfica scores during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Benfica at Stamford Bridge

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Chelsea's Fernando Torres (2nd right) takes on Benfica's Conceicao Emerson (right) and Francisco Javi Garcia during the UEFA Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, London. Photo: Press Association

And now for Barcelona. Chelsea last night advanced into the last four of the Champions League for the sixth time in nine years and, once again, will meet their old nemesis.

There have been some epic, and epically controversial, encounters over those years and another is on its way.

Better buckle up.

Ten-man Benfica were beaten, but certainly not outplayed, in this quarter-final and Chelsea will have to perform far, far better than this if at last they are to capture that holy grail of a prize, the one Jose Mourinho called the beautiful trophy with big ears, come the final next month.

Mourinho, and Real Madrid, potentially lie in wait again, or Bayern Munich, and Chelsea are in rarefied company in the semi-finals and in a position they could not have imagined being in not so long ago.

Credit to the interim head coach Roberto di Matteo and, maybe also, his burgeoning stewardship has the feel of a 'lucky' manager.

There was luck against Benfica -- with a sending-off and a soft penalty -- and there is a touch of the Guus Hiddink regime about Di Matteo. He has steadied the club, improved the atmosphere and touched wood on occasions with results. Can Barca be beaten?

Maybe, just maybe, with another slice of fortune and the Premier League's last men standing will dare to dream. The only blight was an injury to John Terry.

The records were all stacked up against Benfica. Only twice in the history of this competition has a team reversed a first-leg defeat at home; Chelsea have proved formidable at the Bridge and, more immediately, the Portuguese could not call on any of the four central defenders on their books. All were injured.

It made the task ahead even more daunting despite the pre-match chutzpah of their coach Jorge Jesus, who had declared Chelsea fortunate to have come away last week with that advantage gained through Salomon Kalou. He was wrong.

Chelsea's victory was deserved then but Jesus needed to relay a sense of injustice to his players ahead of trying to stir them to a famous comeback. If they felt injustice, it was amplified by the events of the first half.

There was danger within this Benfica side with Oscar Cardozo, Pablo Aimar, Bruno Cesar and the eye-catching Argentinian Nicolas Gaitan and, three times in the opening three minutes, he forayed down the left as they came out of the traps at pace. It meant Frank Lampard and then Terry had to charge down shots from the edge of the penalty area.

Inevitably Chelsea tried to arrest some of that impetus. Maybe they had hoped to make their own quick start; instead that initiative had been taken from them and, not wanting to create a dangerously open encounter, they attempted to retain possession and draw the sting, with Lampard the only alteration from the line-up that had triumphed in Lisbon.

Benfica needed a goal but they also knew that their defence was less trustworthy than usual although one of those replacements, veteran Spanish full-back Joan Capdevila, threw himself to block David Luiz's fierce half-volley. It would have settled Chelsea's obvious nerves but back came Benfica with Terry bellowing for a reaction.

Part of Chelsea's troubles were being caused by Lampard's desire to break forward, leaving John Obi Mikel exposed with Aimar dropping in around him to try and pick out Gaitan, who was being afforded too much space by Branislav Ivanovic, in particular.

Just as they continued to struggle, Chelsea cut a break with Ashley Cole running into the area to meet Terry's lobbed ball forward. Javi Garcia, one of those makeshift central defenders, clumsily collided with him, and referee Damir Skomina awarded the penalty. The Benfica players protested, and it did look a harsh award, but Lampard stepped up to drive the ball low to the left of goalkeeper Artur.

It meant that Chelsea have taken the lead in all their Champions League ties this season and it also meant this match could not go to extra-time.

Benfica needed a response and almost found one from a free-kick, with the ball eventually guided back to Cardozo, whose snapshot beat Petr Cech but was cleared off the line by Terry. In fairness, Benfica were playing some wonderfully creative attacking football with Aimar, by some distance the most impressive player on show as he ran proceedings, threading passes and causing all manner of difficulties to the Chelsea defence. The home side did not help matters by constantly surrendering possession.

Chelsea then cut another break. This time Maxi Perreira over-ran the ball and propelled himself, catching Mikel.

The referee cautioned the captain and, having already booked him for protesting at the penalty, it meant a red card followed. Benfica were down to 10 men.

They were now there to be picked off and Fernando Torres was released down the left. Instead of pulling the trigger, he tried to pull the ball back.

It was a poor decision and highlighted his continuing lack of belief. As Benfica trudged off at half-time, their coach looked forlorn. Jesus knew he needed a miracle.

But it was Benfica who threatened again. And again it was Cardozo. This time Aimar worked the ball to him on the area's edge and his sidefooted, curling shot was clawed over by Cech. Somehow, then, Ramires failed to extend Chelsea's advantage as Kalou crossed almost onto the goal line and the midfielder scuffed at it.

Torres was afforded another chance, his shot deflected wide before Kalou, through on goal, fired straight at the goalkeeper and, then, with another opportunity, he swivelled and drove the ball wide.

For Benfica, Capdevila blazed over as did substitute Yannick Djalo, who later headed wide, while Aimar continued to weave his patterns and the frustrations of Jesus grew. Benfica gained a lifeline, late, with Javi Garcia rising to head home a corner.

Suddenly the atmosphere changed, the nerves returned, but substitute Raul Meireles broke away to crash the ball into the net and end any doubt. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent