A second-half goal by Salomon Kalou handed
Chelsea a 1-0 win over Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League
quarter-final on Tuesday.
The Londoners always appeared in control and Kalou grabbed the only goal in
the 75th minute, tapping the ball in from close range after excellent work down
the right by Fernando Torres and Ramires.
"This was a very good result. We knew the difficulties we were going to face
and now we will take the game back to London where we will have the support of
our fans," said Chelsea centre-back David Luiz.
"Nothing is won yet but we showed a lot of maturity and experience," added
the Brazilian who was signed from Benfica in a big-money transfer 14 months ago.
Kalou's goal vindicated the decision by interim coach Roberto Di Matteo to
start the Ivory Coast forward in place of England international Daniel Sturridge
who was rested from the starting line-up along with Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard,
Michael Essien and Gary Cahill.
Juan Mata had also gone close for Chelsea on the hour when he rounded goalkeeper
Artur Moraes but struck the post from an acute angle.
Mata then had a late chance to put the tie beyond Benfica's reach ahead of
the second leg at Stamford Bridge on April 4.
The Spanish playmaker was set free on the left with four minutes to go
after substitute Sturridge sprinted away down the right but his tame left-footed
chip went wastefully over the bar.
Defender Jardel had Benfica's best chance midway through the second half
when his close-range header was acrobatically saved by Petr Cech.
Earlier, the crowd at a packed Estadio da Luz were treated to a warm spring
evening in Lisbon but had to wait 20 minutes to see the first goal chance.
Brazilian midfielder Bruno Cesar floated a defence-splitting pass to
Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo who chested the ball down before swivelling to
shoot narrowly wide.
There were few opportunities in the first half but the game burst into life
in the second period as Benfica went on the front foot.
The home team, European Cup winners in 1961 and 1962, were unlucky not to
score in the 47th minute when a rocket shot from Cardozo struck David Luiz on
the goal-line before bouncing to safety.
The referee also waved away strong penalty claims when the ball rebounded
off Chelsea captain John Terry's arm but the visitors, still searching for their
first Champions League trophy, were always threatening in attack.
Kalou's late goal gave Chelsea their first away victory in this season's
competition and inflicted Benfica's first home defeat in 11 European ties.
Coach Jorge Jesus said his Benfica team were unlucky.
"Benfica were the stronger team and did not deserve to lose," he said. "We
had more chances to score and Chelsea did not get in on goal that much.
"There is still another match in London. Our players have not given up yet
and we leave here feeling we are a good team."
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