Advantage Chelsea after victory in Lisbon

Benfica 0 Chelsea 1

Chelsea may not be as good as they used to be but even a makeshift line-up was strong enough to put them in touching distance of the Champions League semi-finals tonight.

There was as little to fear from Benfica as Didier Drogba allegedly indicated, the side that helped eliminate Manchester United producing arguably one of the most toothless performances ever witnessed in a quarter-final home leg.

Roberto Di Matteo's gamble of resting six players - including the veterans who inspired the historic last-16 comeback against Napoli - therefore paid off, with Salomon Kalou's late winner putting Chelsea on course for a sixth semi-final in nine years.

The fact the Blues look set to finish in the top four in Europe is all the more remarkable considering their are unlikely to do the same in the Premier League.

Di Matteo's selection tonight invoked memories of Andre Villas-Boas' doomed starting XI in the away leg against Napoli but tiredness appeared to be a justification on this occasion.

It also arguably suggested Chelsea's priority lay in ensuring they qualify for next season's Champions League rather than win this year's.

Benfica, though, may have interpreted it as disrespectful, having already taken offence at a perceived slight from Drogba when the quarter-final draw was made.

Surprisingly, the 65,000-capacity Estadio da Luz was far from full, something that was reflected by a strange atmosphere.

The game lacked intensity in the opening 18 minutes but it finally came to life when Raul Meireles was booked for tripping Nicolas Gaitan in full flight.

Moments later, John Terry was caught out by a Bruno Cesar ball over the top but recovered to put off Oscar Cardozo as the striker tried to finish.

Fernando Torres volleyed over wildly after some excellent chest control, before Cardozo nodded Gaitan's pinpoint cross over the top, then Maxi Pereira's ball forced a panicky clearance from David Luiz.

Meireles drilled over from 25 yards before appearing to get away with a handball in the centre-circle.

Benfica were marginally on top but even their slickest moves were leading nowhere, as were Torres' best efforts, another finish sailing over after some neat footwork.

Five minutes before half-time, a goalkeeper was finally called into a meaningful save when Meireles' skidding 25-yarder was palmed wide by Artur.

Luiz was lucky to escape a caution for felling Pablo Aimar moments after the restart but was in the right place at the right time after the free-kick was played in, clearing Cardozo's stinging strike off the line.

Benfica were finally playing with some urgency but their accuracy continued to let them down, as did Kalou's when he wasted a glorious chance for Chelsea, heading over Torres' left-wing cross.

There were handball shouts against Terry when he blocked Pereira's follow-up after Ashley Cole had thrown himself at the initial shot.

Juan Mata could have immediately rubbed salt into the wound by giving Chelsea the lead on the hour mark. Petr Cech's clearance went straight over the Benfica defence to Mata, who rounded Artur but hit the post from a narrow angle.

Axel Witsel's deflected drive almost looped over Cech, who would have been beaten had Jardel's bullet header from Gaitain's cross been either side of him.

Luisao picked up a yellow card for felling Ramires before Di Matteo withdrew Meireles for Lampard, opposite number Jorge Jesus immediately responding by taking off Aimar and Cesar for Rodrigo and Nemanja Matic.

If Benfica were hoping that would be the catalyst for a final push, they were mistaken as Chelsea took the lead 15 minutes from time.

Ramires showed remarkable determination and no little skill down the right to release Torres, who burst into the box and kept his composure to squad for Kalou to slide home.

Ramires hurt himself in the process of creating the chance but was able to continue as Chelsea looked to hold on to a lead away from home in Europe for the first time this season.

Benfica threw on Nolito for Javi Garcia, while Ferreira and Kalou came off for Jose Bosingwa and Daniel Sturridge, whose breakaway should have seen Chelsea kill the game when they wasted a four-on-two chance.

They almost paid in stoppage-time when Cole stabbed Gaitan's cross narrowly wide of his own goal.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine