Chelsea reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, to play reigning champions Barcelona, after defeating Benfica 2-1 on Tuesday night.
It seemed as though the home side would coast to victory, with a first half of dominant pressure, a 1-0 lead through a Lampard penalty, and the visitors reduced to 10-men after two bookings for stand-in captain Maxi Pereira.
But, in a stagnant second half, Chelsea couldn’t put the tie to bed, and gifted the equaliser late on, setting up a nervous last 5 minutes. However, with Benfica searching for the killer blow, Raul Meireles ended the tie in superb fashion with seconds remaining.
They now face a Barcelona team who defeated AC Milan in the quarter-finals, and a repeat of the harrowing 2009 semi-final, where Iniesta broke Chelsea hearts in injury time.
No doubt the Spaniards would’ve been watching, and maybe it was Chelseas way of lulling them into a false sense of security, as many players looked dreadfully off the pace, and it was just a case of job done on the night.
Benfica arguably started the better, although Mata did have a goal rightly chalked off for offside eleven minutes in. That was until Ashley Cole broke into the box, and Javi Garcia bundled him over, leaving the referee with little choice but to point to the spot.
Lampards penalty was low, and hard, which was enough to take the ball through Arturs grasp, and set the home fans alight.
Benfica regained their grip on the game though, Cardozo having a shot thumped off the line by Terry, but then shot themselves in the book, as the card-wielding referee, Damir Skomina was given little choice as he showed his sixth yellow card of the half, and a second to the interim captain, as he went studs up into Mikel.
The visitors looked like the side with the extra man, and moments after the restart, Petr Cech was somehow equal to a Cardozo effort, which seemed destined to ripple the net.
Chelsea did have chances, Torres twice came close, and Ramires missed when it was easier to score, but nobody in the ground was surprised when Benfica equalised.
Some shoddy defending and terrible communication, led to six or seven Blue shirts watching Javi Garcia leap, and head home from a yard out on 85 minutes.
Benfica continued to press, and goalkeeper Artur nearly went up for a free-kick, which maybe he should have, as he was simply a bystander as ex-Porto man Raul Meireles smashed home from 30 yards on the counter, to seal the tie, and a mouthwatering class with FC Barcelona.
The first leg will take place on April 18th at Stamford Bridge, with the return leg at the Nou Camp on the 24th.