RAUL MEIRELES smashed a late winner to down 10-man Benfica and set up a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final with Barcelona. Frank Lampard tucked away a first-half penalty after Ashley Cole was brought down, putting Chelsea 2-0 up on aggregate.
And the Blues’ task seemed twice as easy when Maxi Pereira was sent off before half-time for a second yellow card.
But when Javi Garcia headed home with five minutes left, Stamford Bridge became very nervy until Meireles finished off a storming counter-attack with a terrific finish.
The result sees Roberto Di Matteo’s side meet Barca in the last four.
Lampard said: “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.”
Asked if Chelsea have some unfinished business against Barcelona after previous controversial clashes, Lampard added: “Everyone has unfinished business with them.
“They are the greatest team in the world. They are going to be favourites 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.”
A tidy team on the ball, Benfica started strongly with Axel Wisel seeing an effort charged down by Lampard early on.
The home side’s first chance of the evening came in the eighth minute, but David Luiz saw his snapshot superbly blocked by Joan Capdevila.
Chelsea continued to press and soon had the ball in the back of the net, although it was ruled out as Juan Mata was offside when he latched onto Salomon Kalou’s through-ball and slotted home.
Referee Damir Skomina was called into action once again shortly afterwards when he awarded the hosts a penalty.
Ashley Cole beat Javi Garcia to a long ball and was adjudged to have been brought down in the box, with Lampard converting the resulting spot-kick.
Garcia received a yellow card for the challenge, while Pereira and Bruno Cesar were booked for dissent.
Chelsea then had John Terry to thank for keeping their two-goal aggregate lead intact when clearing Oscar Cardozo’s effort off the line. Card-happy ref Skomina then changed the complexion of the game by handing Pereira his second booking of the evening.
The Benfica player was adjudged to have fouled John Obi Mikel and the decision gave Chelsea fresh impetus, with Lampard flashing over before Ramires received a yellow card as half-time approached.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus was incensed with referee Skomina as the teams left the field and continued barracking the Slovenian official after the break.
After the break, the superb reflexes of Petr Cech prevented a left-footed curling effort from Cardozo sneaking home, before Aimar rifled a strike into the side-netting moments later.
Only Ramires will know how he failed to convert a Kalou cross-shot in the 50th minute, which came before Torres saw Emerson deflect a well-hit strike past the post.
The Spaniard then put an acrobatic effort wide soon after connecting with Mata’s parried shot.
Chelsea looked shaky in the immediate aftermath and substitute Yannick Djalo had a great goalbound effort deflected wide. Benfica’s desperation to get forward came at a cost, though, as Kalou was only prevented when through on goal by the impressive Artur.
Referee Skomina was forced to have a calming word with Jesus as the half wore on, with the Benfica manager becoming increasingly agitated on the touchline.
The game was becoming stretched as Chelsea sat back and the visitors pressed forward in numbers.
Mata and Kalou both came close for the Blues on rare moves forward, although Djalo headed wide at the other end before Oliveira forced Cech into action.
Jesus made his last change of the night by bringing off Cesar for Rodrigo, who was brought down by Mikel and resulted in the eighth booking of the night.
Chelsea brought on Meireles for Mata in a bid to sure things up with just over 10 minutes remaining, although only Cech’s reactions stopped Djalo levelling. The Czech Republic star looked the home side’s best player, but was powerless to prevent an unmarked Garcia nodding home with five minutes remaining.
The header changed proceedings as another Benfica goal would see them progress on away goals.
Oliveira came close with a curled shot with the outside of his foot, which came before Didier Drogba replaced Torres.
Four minutes of stoppage time were signalled but Chelsea wrapped up victory when they counter-attacked and Meireles lashed home.
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
STAR MAN - ASHLEY COLE (CHELSEA)
CHELSEA: Cech 6, Ivanovic 6, Luiz, 6, Terry 7, Cole 7, Ramires 6, Mikel 5, Lampard 6, Kalou 5, Torres 6, Mata 6. SUBS: Cahill (Terry 59) 5, Meireles (Mata 79) 7, Drogba (Torres 89) 5. Not used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Essien, Sturridge. Booked: Ivanovic, Mikel, Kalou.
|Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not reflect those of Peacefmonline.com. Peacefmonline.com accepts no responsibility legal or otherwise for their accuracy of content. Please report any inappropriate content to us, and we will evaluate it as a matter of priority.|