Chelsea stumble past Benfica to secure semi-final place

Chelsea 2 Benfica 1 (Chelsea win 3-1 on aggregate)

Chelsea secured a Champions League semi-final clash with Barcelona despite a late rally by 10-man Benfica at Stamford Bridge.

Frank Lampard’s penalty settled the Blues’ nerves and they seemed home and dry after Maxi Pereira was sent off five minutes before half-time.

However, they were forced to endure an anxious spell after an unmarked Javi Garcia headed in Pablo Aimar’s left-wing corner with five minutes remaining.

Cech's error led to Benfica's goal.

But the tie was settled when substitute Raul Meireles surged forward on the counter attack and belted into the net from 20 yards.

It meant a sixth European semi-final in nine years for Chelsea and another victory under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo, although they will probably have to play much better to stand any chance of overcoming Barca.

Leading 1-0 from the first leg in Lisbon, Chelsea increased their advantage when Lampard drove home his 21st-minute spot-kick after Ashley Cole had been barged over by Garcia as he attempted to reach John Terry’s ball into the box.

Benfica did not give up and they came close to scoring when Oscar Cardozo’s shot was cleared off the line by Terry, but the Portuguese side were left facing an uphill task once they were reduced to 10 men.

Uruguay right-back Pereira, yellow-carded for dissent early on, was dismissed for a second bookable offence after fouling John Mikel Obi.

Still Benfica pushed forward and Chelsea keeper Petr Cech produced a superb save early in the second half, stretching to tip away an effort from the dangerous Cardozo.

The home side should then have scored their second of the night when Salomon Kalou’s scuffed shot trickled past keeper Artur and into the path of Ramires, who somehow failed to add the finishing touch.

Chelsea continued to create opportunities and Fernando Torres twice fired wide, while Kalou also missed two good chances – and set up Juan Mata, but he too was unable to find the target.

Slack marking and Cech’s hesitation enabled Garcia to give Benfica hope, but Meireles had the final word.

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