Chelsea squeaks past Benfica 2-1 to reach Champions League semis
Well, you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you win with your opponent’s flames licking at your heels. Benfica was certainly the hotter team Wednesday night, predictably enough, since they had the deficit to overcome. Despite Di Matteo’s wise warnings against complacency leading up to the match, Chelsea looked rather casual and frequently sloppy for much of the game. Benfica looked hungry and quite eager to stamp their ticket to Barcelona for the semifinal round.
It wasn’t Chelsea’s best effort by a long shot (Ramires’ soul-draining tap-in miss characterized Chelsea’s evening). The Blues showed little of the cohesiveness and discipline they had in the away leg win. The Stamford Bridge crowd seemed puzzled by the team’s performance and roared with relief when Raul Meireles slammed home an amazing (and frankly rare by his standards) shot in extra time to seal the victory. But a win is a win and it sure is fun to have the Blues back in the Champions League final four (for the first time since 2009 when they also played Barcelona). It’s a major bonus to fans who have watched Chelsea’s Premier League season sputter and stall for months.
So Chelsea will host Barcelona in the first semifinal leg on Wednesday, April 18. I can hardly wait! I really wish the first leg was in Barcelona because it seems the team with home field advantage in the second game often has the upper hand. Still, it’s the Champions League semifinals and after the season Chelsea’s had, fans feel like this is living on borrowed time. I plan to enjoy the ride, even if it is a steep uphill drive against Barcelona.
Here’s hoping Chelsea can get their act together and seize the opportunity. It’s so difficult and rare to reach the Champions League final four. For several Chelsea vets, this may be their last opportunity to win the tournament. And while you certainly can’t overlook the next couple Premier League matches – Wigan tomorrow and Fulham Monday – as both opponents are playing well at the moment (and they’re the kind of matches that have really tripped up the Blues this season), the primary focus must be defeating Barcelona. It’s the last chance to convert the forgettable 2011-2012 season to an unforgettable one.
How do you think Chelsea will fare against Barcelona in the first semifinal leg?