So, Barcelona, are you ready? And ready they will have to be. Chelsea brushed aside Benfica – though not without any worries – to set up a semi-final clash sure to be another epic. The two nemeses meet again, and with so much history and previous, you can be sure of another cracking match. But on this evidence, the best side in the world should have little to worry about. For Chelsea made mountains out of molehills, playing with an extra man for the best part of an hour, but failing to make it count. Frank Lampard’s early penalty gave a two-nil advantage, but when Garcia nodded home, it set up for an intriguing final five minutes. Concede again and Chelsea were out. But as Benfica pressed, Chelsea counterered, and former Porto man Raul Meireles silenced his former arch-rival’s fans with a sumptuous finish in added time.
But it could have been – ought to have been – a much less trecherous ride. Expectation was high within the ground, after a previous away goal in the last outing. Benfica came here knowing they had to score, and their intent was shown from the start. Chelsea were fortunate that the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard, who played in a more defensive role, were back to make vital blocks, with Benfica starting as they meant to go on.
Chelsea upped the ante as the fans sung louder. Luiz’s half-volley from a corner was destined to ripple the onion bag, had Capdevila not made a telling block. Then Mata had the ball in the back of the net, but the offside flag was raised.
But the goal was to come not long after. Ashley Cole made a searching run into the box, and when he was bundled over by make-shift centre-back Garcia, Frank Lampard slotted – though unconvincingly – the ball under Artur’s right-hand, for his 22nd Champions League goal, making him the highest-scoring Englishman in the Champions League knockout stages.
It was now 2-0 on aggregate but not a clear two-goal lead, for if Benfica were to score two, they would be through. And Chelsea’s complacency was to be tested, inevitably.
An innocent-looking free-kick was floated out wide, before being headed back more centrally. Cardozo struck a sweet strike, but Cech had to be thankful that a combination of Ivanovic and Terry on the line kept it out. It appeared to be a drill they had practised multiple times in training, and so very nearly paid off.
Then a moment of real beauty early in the second half. Cardozo all evening had been afforded plenty of space, and he nearly made Chelsea pay were it not for a stunning Cech save, the ball destined for the top corner.
If Cardozo was frustrated at not being able to score that 25-yard effort, imagine Ramires. Chelsea had gone back up the other end and when Kalou had time to send in a low cross, all Ramires had to do was touch the ball. Somehow, and I am not quite sure even he will know, he missed from a yard out.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus then looked like he was surrendering. Star man Cardozo was replaced by Oliveira, in a move that hinted at Jesus focussing more on domestic aims, being a point behind the table-toppers Porto.
But his players showed no sign of giving up. Djalo had a goal-bound shot stopped in its tracks by Cahill, who had been introduced due to a rib injury to John Terry.
Kalou could have wrapped up the game more than once in the match, but letting it onto his weaker left-side, Artur was able to stop his shot.
Then came squeaky bum time. Garcia nodded home after being allowed to run by Luiz and Cahill. Cech was far from convincing as well.
Chelsea were well and truly clinging on, for all their earlier dominance. Benfica had a chance to win it, but a shot from the outside of the right foot beat Cech but, thankfully, also the post.
Drogba came on for Torres, to defend more than anything. Benfica had a free-kick and Artur asked to go forward. This was Benfica’s chance to stun Chelsea. But how it backfired. The delivery was poor, and Mikel’s headed clearance found Meireles. He punted the ball forward and ran after it. Then the magical moment.
Barcelona await in two weeks’ time. They will be firm favourites. But so were Napoli. And we know what happened there.