Benfica 0 Chelsea 1: Advantage Chelsea as Kalou strikes on perfect night for Di Matteo
23:34 GMT, 27 March 2012
Perhaps Frank Lampard should reassess the qualities of this Chelsea side. They might well lack the consistency that enabled them to win three English titles but they remain a team capable of rising to the occasion on the continent.
This was some victory here in the Estadio da Luz, the product not only of a brilliantly executed 75th-minute goal from Salomon Kalou but also some serious graft typified by the irrepressible Ramires and the tenacious Fernando Torres.
It was no accident that they both played their part in securing the advantage Chelsea now take to Stamford Bridge next week for the second leg of this Champions League quarter-final.
We've got a Kalou: The shock inclusion of Salomon Kalou was vindicated when he scored the winner
Artur Moraes, Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Jardel, Emerson, Aimar (Matic 69),
Javi Garcia (Nolito 82), Bruno Cesar (Rodrigo 69), Witsel, Gaitan,
Cardozo. Subs not used: Eduardo, Nelson Oliveira Moreno, Miguel Vitor, Saviola.
Booked: Bruno Cesar, Luisao, Javi Garcia
Cech, Ferreira (Bosingwa 80), Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Meireles
(Lampard 68), Mata, Mikel, Kalou (Sturridge 82), Torres. Subs not used: Turnbull, Essien, Drogba, Cahill.
Goals: Kalou 75
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (Italy)
It was Ramires, a constant threat
down the right flank with his relentless running, who made the initial
ground, and Torres who timed his ball into Kalou to perfection with the
kind of skill and composure on which he built a reputation.
Roberto Di Matteo’s reputation has
certainly been enhanced, the decision to omit certain senior players
paying off when much the same approach had proved so costly for Andre
Villas-Boas in Naples in the previous round.
What happened against Napoli actually made the team selection of the interim manager all the more courageous.
Torres ahead of Didier Drogba, Raul
Meireles ahead of Lampard, David Luiz ahead of Gary Cahill; even John
Mikel Obi ahead of Essien. All big calls, all of which enabled Chelsea
to record their first away win in Europe in 13 months.
Like Ramires, Luiz was outstanding
against his former club. He was in the right place at the right time to
deny Oscar Cardozo in the 47th minute with a terrific goal-line
clearance, coolly using his chest to avert the danger.
But he was also superb in a
formidable partnership with John Terry. With their defensive
colleagues, they left Benfica hugely frustrated, with Paulo Ferreira
also deserving praise for his display at right back given that this was
his first appearance in 2012.
No way thorough: For the most part, Benfica and Chelsea defended excellently
The strategy Di Matteo employed was
an intelligent one even if the omission of Lampard looked like the kind
of gamble he did not need to take.
There was a real Iberian flavour to the Chelsea team, one that would be well-equipped for the challenge Benfica would pose.
But if Di Matteo also wanted to see
his side ‘run and tackle’, as he put it afterwards, for 90 minutes, then
that must have influenced his thinking too.
Lampard and Drogba have looked tired
of late, and in the end the decision to put them on the bench proved a
good one. Benfica will have to concede that, while they had more efforts
on goal, Chelsea enjoyed the better of the chances.
Yes, Cardozo would have scored had it
not been for Luiz. Yes, it took a quite brilliant save from Petr Cech
to deny Jardel, the defender meeting a superb cross from Nicolas Gaitan
with a thumping header.
Desperate times: Bruno Cesar had little impact on the game, but did find time to tumble under the attention of Kalou when he would have been better to run on
But Juan Mata sent an effort against a
post after bursting clear in pursuit of a long ball forward from Cech
and Kalou really should have capitalised on another perfect delivery
from Torres. Much to Di Matteo’s disappointment, he instead sent his
header over the crossbar.
There was also a shot from Meireles
that brought the best out of Artur during a largely uneventful first
half. If the sight of the Benfica eagle circling the stadium was
dramatic, the football that followed was not.
It was cagey, cautious, with both
sides afraid to make the kind of mistake that might prove costly. There
was a chance for Cardozo thanks to a nicely weighted chip forward from
Bruno Cesar, but the Benfica forward’s effort flew wide.
Captain Fantastic: John Terry was a rock at the back for Chelsea, who kept Pablo Aimar very quiet
Chelsea created further opportunities
of their own. Torres sent a volley over the Benfica crossbar and
Ramires continued to trouble Emerson down that flank. At the opposite
end Cardozo sent a header over.
The second half was rather more
lively than the first, however. Within two minutes Cardozo had seen Luiz
chest his effort off the line and Kalou and Mata then went
desperately close for Chelsea.
If Benfica had one major grievance,
it was the referee’s failure to punish Terry for appearing to intercept a
cross from Maxi Pereira with his hand. Terry would no doubt argue it
was ball to hand.
Much improved: Fernando Torres showed flashes of former glories, but was let down by his finishing
But Jorge Jesus’s side could only curse the excellence
of Cech for then stopping that Jardel header, just as he probably
cursed Jardel for then allowing Torres to skip past him before
delivering a pass to Kalou that eluded Luisao.
It was the simplest of finishes for
Kalou but a goal Chelsea deserved, not least for their work-rate and a
proper team effort. It was a quality Kalou highlighted afterwards. The
difference, he said, was that they ‘played like a team’.
Take one for the team: Raul Meireles was first into the referee's book for a trip on Gaitan
So now to Stamford Bridge, the second leg, and what should be Chelsea’s successful passage to the semi-finals.
As someone pointed out last night,
this could yet prove to be a repeat of their 2009 season when they
sacked their manager, lost to Barcelona in the Champions League
semi-finals and then beat Everton at Wembley to win the FA Cup.
That, however, would mean writing off Chelsea before a European game, and that is never a wise thing to do.
Eagle has landed: fans were treated to the wonderful spectacle of the Benfica mascot swooping through the stadium