BENFICA 0 vs CHELSEA 1
CHELSEA manager Roberto di Matteo is still expecting sleepless nights before next week’s return leg, despite planting one foot into the Champions League semi-finals with a gutsy victory last night in Lisbon.
Much-maligned forward Salomon Kalou’s 75th-minute tap-in and his team-mates’ tireless chasing of a talented Benfica side ushered the Blues closer to the last four, where they are likely to face Euro kings Barcelona.
Di Matteo gambled by leaving stalwarts Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard on the bench for his team’s third match in six days, and was rewarded handsomely with a second major European victory.
Chelsea’s diligence might even have reaped greater rewards, with Juan Mata missing two clear second-half chances, but the caretaker boss remains wary of opponents who knocked out Manchester United.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position, but it’s not a result you can rely upon for the home game. It’s one goal,” said the Italian (right), who has now won five from seven since replacing Andre Villas-Boas.
“You look at he results Benfica have achieved in this Champions League – you’re not going to sleep very calmly looking at that.”
Di Matteo said his brave team choice had been conceived to “energise” his fatigued team. “We knew Benfica play at a high tempo so we needed fresh players who could run. That was the reasoning,” he added.
Mata almost opened the scoring before Kalou when he nipped behind a dozing back four, beating them to a long ball, and rounded goalkeeper Artur, only to hit the post from an acute angle.
The Spain midfielder could then have added to the Ivorian’s strike late on when he was found in space by substitute Daniel Sturridge but could not keep his attempted chip under the bar.
Kalou grabbed the decisive goal with a quarter of an hour remaining, finding the unguarded net after striker Fernando Torres drove in from the right and supplied a delicately weighted low centre.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus insisted his team had not deserved to lose, and backed them to score at Stamford Bridge in seven days’ time.
“We were superior in many things to Chelsea, but they were luckier in one moment,” said Jesus. “We can still go there and win. We’ve scored in all our away games so far, so we can easily go there and win.”
The closest the Portuguese side came to scoring was when 23-goal striker Oscar Cardozo’s powerful goal-bound shot struck Blues defender David Luiz, formerly of Benfica, on the chest, with the scores still level.