Chelsea take a huge step towards the Champions League semi-final thanks to Salomon Kalou's second-half goal
Evening folks. Benfica's Estadio da Luz was the venue for one of my favourite sporting memories. I was in Lisbon back in sepia-tinged days of December 2010 (in a knee-knack-foiled attempt to run the Lisbon marathon) when Schalke were in town for a dead rubber at the end of the Champions League group stages. There were some big names on show. Pablo Aimar was a second-half substitute for the hosts, while Javier Saviola started. Raúl and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar started up front for the German side. The stadium is a cathedral of football, a towering and beautiful place. It was a fairly dire game, but the Schalke fans were incredible. They made for a lively post-match evening in the Bairro Alto after their 2-1 win. Much Sagres and a fair amount of Port was enjoyed in a selection of bars. Ah, fond memories.
Anyway, that's all background. The point is – at half-time the vending machine vended two - TWO! - bags of Maltesers. Take that world! I win! In the most minor way imaginable …
The teams are in:
Benfica: Artur Moraes, Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Jardel, Emerson, Aimar, Javi Garcia, Bruno Cesar, Witsel, Gaitan, Cardozo. Subs: Eduardo, Nolito, Nelson Oliveira, Rodrigo Moreno, Matic, Miguel Vitor, Saviola.
Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Meireles, Mata, Mikel, Kalou, Torres. Subs: Turnbull, Essien, Lampard, Drogba, Bosingwa, Sturridge, Cahill.
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (Italy)
So Paulo Ferreira makes his first Chelsea start of 2012. Torres, as widely expected, starts up front. For Benfica (MBMer surreptitiously consult's Ben Shave's excellent piece on the Portuguese side's key players) Cardozo, Aimar, Artur Moraes, Maxi Pereira and Javi Garcia all start. I expect them to play important roles for the home side. You might even describe them as "key". I know I would.
Hopefully we'll see Benfica's eagle, Vitoria, doing some pre-match swooping. Given the predilection of birds of prey for small, furry, scurrying creatures, Juan Mata might want to stay under cover at that point. It's also tradition for Vitoria to be present when players sign for the club – as Pablo Aimar demonstrates here. Is that smile ever-so-slightly forced?
Benfica, of course, aren't the only club to employ an animal. This old Knowledge might provide you with a little pre-match reading. You've got to love Judy the Carlisle United goldfish. I've also got an unexplained fondness for Schöppche, the Eintracht Frankfurt pony.
Vitoria landed plum on his perch, which apparently bodes well for the home side.
Click-clack, click-clack … The teams are in the tunnel … and out they come.
A quick word on away goals. In the Champions League round of 16, four teams scored away goals in the first leg. All four went through. Of the other four (those who didn't score away goals in the first leg) only Apoel went through, at that was on penalties. Essentially I'm making the hugely radical point that away goals are important in the first legs of European competitions. Nil-nil is not a good result for Chelsea tonight.
Peep! Off we go then. "I think we might be in for another 'shock' tonight in which an Iberian club that the TV pundits, ostensibly paid for their expertise and knowledge, have never seen, press an over-hyped English team silly and play with an overall tempo and crispness that they can't handle," reckons Andre Mullinder. "Chelsea put in a shamefully narcoleptic performance at home to Spurs on Saturday in a match that was a great advert for cricket, and anything less than about a nine million percent improvement on that, and they could take a thrashing."
1 min: David Luiz gets an early touch against his former club. And after just 35 seconds Kalou gets some space over on the left from which to attack. After just 36 seconds Benfica have the ball back.
2 min: Bruno Cesar scurries after a clever Aimar pass inside Ferreira, but the experienced defender is back quick enough to cut it out.
3 min: Benfica's coach Jorge Jesus seems to have stolen Roberto Mancini's hair and pumped it full of steroids. Kalou handballs over on the right and Benfica send the artillery forward …
4 min: … Aimar hangs it up to the back post, a Benfica boot directs it back across goal, and somehow no one gets a touch.
5 min: That was an interesting set piece, one from the Warnockian, Megsonian, Allardycian playbook – free-kick on halfway, centre-halves trundle forward, midfielder puts it in the mixer. I've not problem at all with that type of dead ball tactic, but it's interesting to see a last-eight Champions League side use it.
6 min: Torres turns and trots to the byline – he delivers a decent cross that's headed away.
7 min: Maxi Pereira throws long to Cardozo, but the Paraguayan's control is poorer than a church mouse the day after receiving a large income tax bill. And a parking ticket.
9 min: It all gets a bit scrappy in midfield. Stat fans may like to note that 83% of the game so far has been played in the central 34% of the field. Roughly.
11 min: Kalou is caught offside. And from the free-kick Benfica again pump long and get reward, with Terry fouling Cardozo 50 yards out …
12 min: … drifted in towards Jardel at the back post, nodded away by Ramires.
14 min: Benfica work a couple of one-twos down the right – Maxi Pereira looks willing to burst forward at every opportunity – but Chelsea clear the cross.
15 min: Chelsea break quickly through Terry, then Ramires. Torres's cross is deflected behind …
16 min: … and Artur comes out to collect a poor cross. Oh, hang on, he's dropped it like a wet fish. Benfica sort themselves out and smuggle the thing clear, but that was a hairy moment.
17 min: Ramires rumbles forward once more, but this time he can't get his pass away cleanly.
18 min: It's an open game at the moment, although there's not been much end product when we get to each end. Meireles chops down Gaitan in midfield and gets a fully-deserved booking.
19 min: A chance for Benfica! Bruno Cesar lofts a pitching-wedge pass forward to Cardozo who has grabbed half a yard on Terry. The chest control is perfect, the first-time volley not struck cleanly. Wide, but only just.
20 min: Gaitan plays a sumptuous reverse pass down the line for Maxi Pereira, but it's slightly – slightly – too heavy for the full-back.
22 min: Torres does wonderfully to chest down a high pass, but his first-time shot heads off towards Setubal.
23 min: Cardozo can look like awkward old lamp-post amid the hither and thither and hussle and bussle of Benfica's forward play. And he does so just there as another attack breaks down on his boots. He's got something in the box, though.
25 min: Bruno Cesar booked and Chelsea have a dangerous free-kick over on the right. Flicked on by a Benfica head. Corner …
26 min: … Meireles, amid a howl of whistles and jeers, delivers into the box. And out again for a throw on the far side.
27 min: "Don't forget the Cologne goat," pleads Patrick Darcy. Don't worry – Hennes VIII is in there. He's even pictured.
28 min: Gaitan delivers a swirling, curling cross into the area. Cardozo – presumably having just seen me write "He's got something in the box" – gets up well, but can't keep his header down.
30 min: Maxi Pereira, like a telly addict viking, makes another raid on the box. David Luiz just about clears away his cross. Corner …
31 min: … which turns into a throw in. Which Chelsea clear.
32 min: "Please tell me that the Jardel on show is the one time Porto (and Bolton) goalmeister who ballooned to the size of a house," writes Ben Fitzpatrick, who is going to be disappointed. "Assuming he has continued that rate of fattening up since his Bolton days, he must be almost as big as Frank Lampard now." Ooh, put those claws away …
33 min: Bruno Cesar pings long-range effort at goal straight into what Gorilla Monsoon might have once called Peter Cech's breadbasket.
35 min: A combination of Gaitan and Aimar trips Mikel. "Have you any idea why Meireles is being singled for such special abuse by the Benfica fans?" wonders Brad McMillan. He's ex-Porto, which is probably enough.
36 min: Nice one-touch stuff from Benfica puts the ball on Bruno Cesar's boot 30-odd yards out, but his shot is wilder than … well, this.
38 min: Torres shimmies and shakes a yard of space on the edge of the box. With his left he curls a shot a few yards over. That was promising from the Spaniard.
40 min: Torres clips a ball through through to Kalou, who pulls back to Meireles. A first time shot is struck sweeter than a honey chewit, but Artur makes a decent low stop.
41 min: "Re. Meireles – Being ex-Porto is more than enough," confirms Esteves Cardoso. "His haircut also galls."
42 min: Mata, whose been very quiet thus far, dinks a clever ball over the top for Torres, who wins a corner …
43 min: … and from the penalty spot mosh pit, the referee reckons a Chelsea player has committed a foul. "I write this while holding my daughters hand as she falls asleep," writes James Wood. "Earlier today she kicked a ball over the fence and asked if we were pretending to be Liverpool. Nothing to do with the Big Cup match but made my day brighter."
45 min: Bruno Cesar goes over Kalou's outstretched boot on the right edge of the box. Dangerous free-kick this …
Peep! Peep!! … drilled in and clear away. And indeed, that's the last action of the half. Chelsea will be happy enough … but remember my hugely radical pre-match point: away goals are important.
PEEP! And off we go in the second half.
46 min: Aimar is tripped by David Luiz. Another dangerous free-kick to the home side …
47 min: … nodded out for a throw. Maxi Pereira winds up for another long throw …
48 min: … and that's a fantastic goal-line clearance from David Luiz! The ball dropped to Cardozo who lashed a shot at goal with thunderous force. Luiz, who in fairness might have struggled to get out of the way had he tried, makes the block with Cech beaten.
50 min: Ramires again surges forward, Luisao gets a toe to the ball ahead of Torres.
51 min: Bruno Cesar wangs another shot at goal, and again finds Cech's breadbasket.
52 min: Benfica have started the second half with purpose and energy, but Chelsea have won a free-kick on the break … which David Luiz from all of 40 yards pings into the wall.
53 min: Oh, Salomon. Torres drifted in a cross, the Ivorian drifted away from his man, but then the header drifted over the bar. That was probably Chelsea's best chance of the game.
54 min: Sky's tunnel man Geoff Shreeves reckons that Meireles might have made a gesture to the home fans in response to their catcalls. "I asked Uefa about it at half-time," reports Shreeves. "But they didn't know anything about it so he may have got away with it."
56 min: Cardozo pings another shot from distance into Cech's waiting arms. Benfica have been largely on the front foot, but they've never really cut through the visiting defence. Long-range efforts have been their only reward, by and large.
57 min: A paper aeroplane floats onto the pitch. That must have been well put together – it's reached the D on the edge of Cech's area.
59 min: Cole makes a fine block as Maxi Pereira strolls forward once more, then the home fans scream for a penalty as the ball strikes Terry's arm. You've seen them given, but probably erroneously.
60 min: And from Cech's clearance, Mata is clean through after Luisao hesitates! He dinks it round the onrushing Artur, but then smacks his shot against the post as the angle narrowed.
62 min: Emerson beats David Luiz on the right, but, like a man hoping to make a really light, airy omelette, he wants to beat him again. And Chelsea clear.
64 min: Gaitan launches himself into the Lisbon air and wins an unlikely free-kick. Aimar sends it in, but Chelsea clear. They've defended very well from dead balls.
65 min: Witsel robs Mikel in midfield and pings a shot at goal that loops up off Terry, but lands on the roof of Cech's net.
66 min: Bruno Cesar whups in a corner. Chelsea yet again clear. But not fully and Gaitan finds a team-mate at the back post. Witsel heads at goal but Cech gets down to save. That was a close shave.
68 min: Lampard replaces Meireles. Aimar is replaced by former Chelsea man Nemanja Matic. And Rodrigo, once of Bolton, replaces Bruno Cesar.
70 min: Terry gets a touch onto Rodrigo's pass into Cardozo and guides the ball back to Cech. Much of the Estadio da Luz crowd roar whatever the Portuguese for "BACKPASS!" is, but it's more optimistic than a donkey with a Grand National entry form.
73 min: Torres wriggles clear down the right, crosses low …
GOAL!!! Benfica 0-1 Chelsea (Kalou 74) Chelsea lead! Ramires batters his way down the line and feeds Torres, who stays on his feet and crosses low for Kalou to slide home from a couple of yards out. Benfica were torn open like a bag of dry-roasted there.
76 min: Lampard's half clearance gets lumped over the bar by Matic.
77 min: Emerson absolutely clatters Ramires and somehow escapes a booking.
78 min: Replay of the Chelsea goal show just how strong Torres was in the build-up. Emerson, I think, gave him a right old whack, but the Chelsea man scurried on regardless when some would've hit the turf quicker than a homesick mole.
80 min: Gaitan finds the overlapping Emerson with another lovely pass, but David Luiz reacts quickest to clear. When Gaitan's been involved, he's looked classy, but he's just not been in the game enough for Benfica's liking.
82 min: Nolito, recently sprung (without me noticing) from the bench, finds himself with a yard or two of space in the box, but looks as surprised as anyone about it. The shot is snatched over.
83 min: Sturridge replaces Kalou as Chelsea look for fresh legs for the final few minutes.
85 min: Nolito whips in a free-kick. Chelsea, for the 4,291st time this evening, head clear with little fuss.
86 min: What a break! What a chance! What a mess Juan Mata's made of it! Sturridge burst through on the right and Chelsea, like a certain kind of speciality home video, had a three-on-two situation. Sturridge's pass across to Mata wasn't the best. The Spaniard's attempted dinked lob, though, was pretty miserable.
87 min: RED CARD! For Chelsea's goalkeeping coach. Christophe Lollichon has apparently said something out of turn in the direction of an official and has been given his marching orders.
89 min: Benfica continue to press, but they're a long way from a hot knife through butter. In truth, they're more akin to the soft, regular patting of a wooden spoon. And, to stretch the analogy long beyond breaking point, the buttery pat of Chelsea's defence has refused to yield. Must've been in the fridge a while.
90 min: There'll be five minutes of added time and Benfica start it with a corner. I'm predicting a Chelsea header away …
90+1 min: … not a header, but a decent block and then a clearance. The end effect is just the same.
90+3 min: Cole smiles ruefully as he comes within a couple of feet of conceding an own goal. Gaitan's spanked cross might have found one of three Benfica attackers but instead picked out the left-back, who was relieved to see his skewed clearance flash wide.
Peep! Peep!! PEEEEEP!!! All over. What a result that is for Chelsea.
Quite honestly, that was a very fine away European performance from Chelsea. It wasn't pretty, but they were superbly organised at the back and clinical enough in front of goal when they forced the chance. Benfica were a little disappointing in the end. "Disjointed, overly cautious, lacking in attacking thrust," is Ben Shave's view on Twitter, and that's pretty much spot on.
Right, that's it from me. Thanks, as ever, for your emails and your company. Stick around on site for reports and reaction from Lisbon, but from me, cheerio!