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Kalou strike puts Chelsea firmly in the driving seat

This was one of the great nights for Chelsea, a day in the sunshine for their fans followed by an evening basking in the glow of a fine team performance capped by Salomon Kalou's goal.

With Roberto Di Matteo getting his tactics spot on, Chelsea delivered a classic away performance. If the headlines went to Kalou, huge kudos should go to Fernando Torres, who made the goal with a magnificent run, strengthening Chelsea's hopes of meeting Barcelona or AC Milan in the semi-finals.

By the final whistle, Chelsea's jubilant fans were serenading the departing locals with "cheerio" after a rendition of "it's so quiet in Lisbon." They will beware Benfica's threat at Stamford Bridge next week, particularly that of Pablo Aimar.

Benfica's threat had been varied, ranging from the scheming darts of Aimar, soon bringing a foul from Raul Meireles, to the aerial menace occasionally posed at set-pieces from their tall centre-halves, Luisao and Jardel. The movement of Nicolas Gaitan also caught Chelsea out, at times running at Ashley Cole down Benfica's right and at others gliding through the middle.

One of Gaitan's runs, beginning with his spinning away from Cole, was crudely terminated by Meireles, who was promptly booked. The Lisbon public loved that, watching a former Porto player struggling.

Yet Chelsea were hardly troubled in the first half. Benfica were easy on the eye in the build-up but the finish was poor. Oscar Cardozo operated as the forward staging post for Benfica excursions, bringing Aimar and Alex Witsel into play and also beating David Luiz in the air although his header failed to trouble Petr Cech.

Bruno Cesar drilled the ball over from the left, Cardozo chested down but hooked just wide.

Chelsea refused to be cowed, refused to park the bus, taking the sting out of the game with occasional bouts of keep-ball but also sliding forward, looking for openings. Up in the Gods, the Chelsea fans were crammed into one section, the stewards refusing to let them move into four empty rows, causing brief tension. Down below, Torres was showing some neat touches.

Midway through the half, Benfica really raised the tempo. Witsel drilled in a cross, requiring a flying headed clearance from Luiz.

Benfica were whipping in some fine balls, including one gem from the left for Gaitan but Cardozo headed over. Benfica travelled down the low road as well as the high. One galloping run by their left-back, Maxi Pereira, was stopped by Luiz before he could close on Cech's goal. Chelsea's keeper then held a long-ranger from Cesar.

Chelsea weathered the squall, frustrating Benfica by stroking the ball around in the deep areas, adding to their 52pc first-half possession, before suddenly springing forward.

Torres, playing a one-two with Ramires, cleverly worked an opening but shot over. Then came Chelsea's best chance of the half, in fact their only effort on target. With six minutes remaining before the break, Kalou rolled the ball inside to Meireles, who drew a good save from Artur. Mata swerved in another of his left-footed corners, targeting the penalty spot, but Luiz headed wide.

Benfica regained the ball but never the first-half initiative. Aimar, always bright of movement, continued to pull the strings, building moves, ushering Pereira down the right but Cole blocked. Bruno Cesar then tricked his way past Kalou and was fouled, the red hordes screaming for a yellow. Paolo Tagliavento, the Italian referee, blew for half-time and the players ambled off.

Benfica emerged a different team, far more energised. They almost snatched the lead as the new half unfolded. From a Pereira throw, the ball bounced to Cardozo whose shot was cleared off the line by Luiz.

Chelsea then sprung forward, Torres lifting in a cross that Kalou wasted with the goal at his mercy. Benfica just went down the far end, Cardozo trying his luck. Aimar was always available, always looking to insinuate his way past blue shirts. Gaitan was now a threat on the left. Benfica were launching more attacks, including a paper dart from a fan which almost reached the centre-circle.

Cole then made a great block from the rampaging Pereira, who screamed vainfully for a penalty when the follow-up struck John Terry. As some Benfica players were still remonstrating with the officials, Mata so nearly scored, rounding Artur but the angle was always awkward and he did well to even hit the post.

Still Benfica pressed hard, looking for something to take to Stamford Bridge next week. Chelsea defended resolutely, delighting their fans. Torres hurried back to make a clearance. Cech did superbly to repel Jardel's header. Still the hosts sought a breakthrough. As their fans in one corner continued to keep up the chants and the drumming, other parts of the stadium fell silent or sighed with frustration.

This was a determined display by the visitors. Even when the substitute, Rodrigo, angled a ball towards the edge of the area, Terry diverted it back to Cech.

Then Chelsea, gloriously, broke upfield, Ramires beginning the charge.

Torres took the ball on, with a powerful run down the right, racing into space.

On the Spaniard ran, eluding Jardel, hurtling towards the line before crossing perfectly for Kalou to score from close range.

The lead secured, the precious away goal collected, Di Matteo sought to break up Benfica's attempt at rebuilding some momentum. Jose Bosingwa came on to replace Ferreira, who had defended doggedly. Then Daniel Sturridge arrived for Kalou with eight minutes remaining.

When Bosingwa cleared with five minutes left, following a brief scare from Nolito, Sturridge tore down the right before picking out Mata.

The little Spaniard went for the delicate chip which cleared Artur -- but also the crossbar. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent