Chelsea book Barcelona semi-final

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Chelsea will renew rivalries with Champions League holders Barcelona in the last-four after nervously dispatching 10-man Benfica at Stamford Bridge.

Frank Lampard’s first half penalty appeared to set The Blues on their way, but the Primera Liga side, who went down to 10-man after 40 minutes following Maxi Pereira’s red card, set up a grand-stand finish as Javi Garcia nodded home with five minutes left.

But their Premier League counterparts held out in a nervy finish, with substitute Raul Meireles smashing home in the dyeing embers of stoppage time, to set up a semi-final clash with arguably the world’s best club side, Barcelona.

Both sides made two changes from the first-leg at the Estadio da Luz, with Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard returning, while for Benfica central defensive pair Luisao and Jardel were both absent.

With Chelsea having already saved their Champions League season on two occasions with sterling home performances this season, their 1-0 lead against their Portuguese counterparts saw Roberto Di Matteo’s side begin as favorites for the last four.

The visitors had clearly not read the script in the early exchanges, with the movement of the much-coveted Nicolas Gaitan and Oscar Cardozo troubling a Chelsea back four which appeared a great deal more brittle than during the first leg.

However, after 21 minutes, Chelsea produced the sort of sucker-punch that had done them well throughout their European campaign, as Ashley Cole collided with makeshift centre-back Javi Garcia inside the penalty area, with Frank Lampard squeezing home the resulting spot-kick.

Jorge Jesus’ side weren’t afraid to continue to play their natural game despite the early blow, and came within a whisker to leveling the scores on the night as Cardozo’s shot was blocked on the line by John Terry.

But in the ebb and flow nature of the game, the home side caught a break that would go a long way to securing their passage as skipper Pereira was dismissed for a second bookable offence, after sliding in on Jon Obi Mikel.

Pereira’s sending off  infact did little to disrupt Benfica’s growing dominance in the second half, and Petr Cech did brilliantly to turn away Cardozo’s shot within three minutes of the restart.

The hosts contrived to spurn their best chance of the evening from the very next attack as Salomon Kalou’s shot bobbled ominously across the Benfica goalline only for Ramires to fail to convert from a yard.

Fernando Torres, very much the on the peripheral of the encounter, had another opportunity to put the tie to bed, but his left footed effort deflected off Emerson and beyond Artur Moraes’ goal.

The chances continued to flow for both sides, Kalou having his effort smothered before substitute Yannick Djalo headed over from Joao Capedevilla’s centre.

But with five minutes left, and Benfica’s challenge fading, an unmarked Garcia flicked home to set up a nervy finale, a proposition which was greatly improved when Meireles fired in, in added on time, with four-time European Cup winners Barcelona the next hurdle before a potential final appearance in Munich.


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