Chelsea took a big step towards the last four of the Champions League here on Tuesday after scoring a 1-0 victory over Portuguese giants Benfica in their quarter-final first-leg match.
A 75th-minute strike from Salomon Kalou gave Chelsea a hard-fought win at the Stadium of Light after Benfica had carved out the better chances but failed to land the knockout blow against their Premier League opponents.
The result also represented vindication for interim Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, who had taken a huge gamble by surprisingly omitting veterans Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien from his starting line-up.The win puts Chelsea firmly on course to reach their sixth Champions League semi-final in nine seasons heading into the return leg at Stamford Bridge next week.
A subdued first half saw neither side manage to get a grip on the game, with Chelsea failing to get a shot on target until Raul Meireles tested Artur with a fierce low strike on 40 minutes.
Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo had been the first to draw a save from Petr Cech on 11 minutes, but his tame header from Gaitan's cross on the left was comfortably gathered by the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Chelsea forays into Benfica territory were few and far between, with Fernando Torres's high and wide shot on 22 minutes the sum total of their early efforts.
Benfica had one of the few attempts on goal in the 33rd minute when Bruno Cesar cut in from the right and shot, but again Cech was equal to the challenge.
Benfica came out for the second half with a far greater sense of purpose and threatened the Chelsea goal twice in the opening five minutes.
Only a desperate goal-line clearance from David Luiz prevented a Benfica goal on 48 minutes, the Brazilian defender blocking Cardozo's shot from the edge of the area.
Chelsea also had a golden opportunity to open the scoring on 53 minutes. Torres curled in an inviting cross from the left but the unma-rked Kalou could only head over.Benfica remained in the ascendancy but Chelsea again were given a clear chance on goal on the 60-minute mark.
With 15 minutes to go Chelsea struck with a goal from nothing. Ramires, whose pace down the right had troubled Benfica all evening, surged down the flank into space. The Brazilian fed Torres, who picked out Kalou, who jabbed home to stun the Stadium of Light into silence.
Benzema double kills Apoel fairytale run
Nicosia: A Karim Benzema double helped nine-time winners Real Madrid to a 3-0 away win over Cypriot surprise package APOEL in their Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash here on Tuesday.
APOEL put up a stubborn rearguard action in a contest they were as expected largely outplayed by their illustrious and more famous opponents.
It took three goals in the final 15 minutes to seal victory and all but likely a berth in the semi-finals barring a miracle.
The Spanish millionaires left it late against the unheralded Cypriot minnows who failed to muster a shot on target.
It seemed only a matter of time before Real would stamp their superiority over the Cypriots but the killer blow didn't come until the 74th minute when Benzema headed in a delightful cross from substitute Kaka.
And Kaka put the game — and maybe the tie — beyond doubt when he slotted in from close range after fellow Brazilian and substitute Marcelo raced into the box and found him unmarked.
Benzema got his second on a quick counter scoring from close range from a Mesut Oezil cross on 90 minutes.
Real could have scored a hatful but they spurned a series of golden opportunities.
The Cypriots have punched above their weight in this competition but this proved a step too far.