Unconvincing Chelsea in Champions League semi-finals
London: Chelsea will face holders Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals after unconvincingly eliminating 10-man Benfica with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
After winning 1-0 away last week, Chelsea`s advantage was extended by Frank Lampard from the penalty spot in the 21st minute. But Chelsea failed to make their man advantage count after Maxi Pereira was sent off in the 40th minute, with a several clear-cut chances squandered after the break.
And it was a nervy conclusion to the quarter-final at Stamford Bridge after Javi Garcia headed Benfica level on the night in the 85th minute. Another goal would have sent Benfica through on away goals but Raul Meireles blasted the ball into the net on a counterattack during tense stoppage time to secure Chelsea`s 3-1 aggregate win and deny the visitors a first European Cup semi-final appearance in 22 years.
"It was a tough game," Lampard said. "Winning 1-0 away leaves you in a bit of a conundrum how to approach the game. We gave them an idea they could come and win the game. We didn`t want to go too gung ho but we created enough chances tonight in the second half. We are pleased to be in the semis."
Chelsea are there for the first time in three years as they look for an elusive first Champions League title — which could be their only route back into the lucrative competition next year.
Despite being the last English club standing in Europe, the Blues are only fifth in the Premier League and outside the top four Champions League qualification places. But a new air of confidence has engulfed Stamford Bridge in the last month since Andre Villas-Boas was dismissed and Roberto Di Matteo was put in temporary charge until the end of the season.
This, though, was not a commanding performance from the 2008 finalists, who will likely need something more impressive against four-time champion Barcelona and the free-scoring Lionel Messi in a rematch of their 2009 semi-final.
"Everyone has unfinished business with them," Lampard said. "They are the greatest team in the world. They are going to be favorites but we have a lot of belief in ourselves. We have to perform at our best to beat them and we believe we can do that."
Chelsea will be thankful that the visitors matched their lack of ruthlessness up front despite flashes of flair throughout the match from a Benfica side lacking any Portuguese players from kickoff.
While Joan Capdevila had to throw himself at David Luiz`s eighth-minute strike to deny Chelsea an opener, there was more endeavor from Benfica. But the quarter-final turned further in Chelsea`s favour after Javi Garcia`s challenge on Ashley Cole in the penalty area led to Lampard netting from spot.
Benfica maintained their pursuit of a goal with Oscar Cardozo following up a speculative long-range strike that flew over with a low effort, forcing goalkeeper Petr Cech into a low save on the half hour.
Even though Pereira — the only regular defender in a makeshift back four — was sent off following a lunge on John Obi Mikel, Benfica did not look like a side playing with 10 men.
At the start of the second half, Cech blocked a left-footed curling attempt from Cardozo, while Pablo Aimar found the space to strike into the side netting. Salomon Kalou should have doubled Chelsea`s lead, but his shot lacked the power to find its way into the net and Ramires failed to push the ball into the open net.
Fernando Torres also saw a shot deflected away from the goal by Emerson, while Juan Mata flashed the ball across the face of goal in the 70th from a tight angle.
Chelsea looked like they might be made to pay for their profligacy, with Yannick Djalo heading over and then seeing another attempt turned wide before Garcia`s header finally breached Cech`s goal. Had Nelson Oliveira found the target soon after, Benfica would have been heading into the last four but Chelsea clung on with Meireles` strike easing the late nerves.
"We have been the better team in both legs and I am very proud of my men," Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said through a translator. "We have played with 10 men for the best part of an hour and we were still the better team and made Chelsea look ordinary. We were penalised by the referee unjustly I feel."