Nervy Blues set up Barca date

Roberto Di Matteo now has two weeks to prepare his Chelsea side for their sixth Champions League semi-final in nine years.

The problem for the interim Chelsea manager and his players is that it will be against Barcelona.

And as much as they enjoyed this roller coaster ride into the last four the Kings of Catalonia will not have seen much to worry them last night from the boys from the King’s Road.

Chelsea needed a Frank Lampard penalty, the early sending off of Benfica captain Maxi Pereira and an injury-time goal from substitute Raul Meireles to get through as Portugal’s finest so nearly stole a dramatic late victory on the away goals rule.

And Chelsea would have had only themselves to blame as they started this game as if they already booked a date with Barca thanks to their first-leg 1-0 win in Lisbon.

“We knew before the game we were going to face a difficult game tonight and it proved that,’’ Di Matteo said.

“Benfica are a good side, but we are pleased we are in the semi-final now. The second goal was missing to kill the game. With a 1-0 lead they still had a chance and they knew that. We missed a lot of chances to kill the game.”

Asked about facing Barcelona in the last four, Di Matteo added: “Let me enjoy this first of all.

“They [Barcelona] are probably one of the best teams in the world, if not the best. We are excited to be able to play a semi-final against a big team.”

However, last night Benfica bossed Chelsea from the start. Their manager Jorge Jesus strutted around his technical area looking like one of the Bee Gees or an ageing 70s nightclub lothario from London’s West End. Either way, he looked pretty cool and he had every reason to be watching his team of red-shirted assassins darting around the Stamford Bridge pitch as if they owned it for the opening 20 minutes.

Then, from nowhere, in the 21st minute, came the Chelsea goal that completely turned the match on its head. Ashley Cole darted into the box to control a lobbed John Terry through ball and was challenged clumsily by Javi Garcia. Slovenian referee Damir Skomina, judged well and blew for a penalty. Lampard then did what he is good at to squeeze in a low right-foot shot from the spot.

Di Matteo kept his composure on the Chelsea half of the technical area, but Jesus was all over the dance floor now, kicking his legs out in frustration and shouting hysterically.

His players looked beaten men too. Chelsea suddenly looked confident. They seemed to sense the delights of a semi-final and Catalonia ahead of them as their supporters sang themselves hoarse. Fernando Torres pulled the ball back as Chelsea quickly sought a second and Benfica were happy to clear for a corner.

What a difference a goal makes.

But it nearly led to David Luiz’s downfall and his casual dribbling from the back almost let in Manchester United target Nico Gaitan for a goal, only for hero of the moment Lampard to scramble and tackle to safety.

Chelsea could not afford to relax now and the manner of their tackling betrayed a certain edge. It was just what the referee ordered as he seemed to relish showing a series of cards from his green official’s jersey; seven yellows and a red was the count by half-time.

And it was the red he quite rightly showed to Pereira, already cautioned for protesting the penalty, that all but killed off the match when he went in two-footed on John Obi Mikel.

Chelsea began to enjoy themselves in the second half. Kalou almost added to his first leg goal when he hit a post and Torres had a couple of good chances scrambled away.

Then they paid for profligacy. Petr Cech conceded a corner saving a Yannick Djalo header but Garcia then rose unmarked to head in an equaliser from the ensuing set piece. One more and Benfica would be through.

Nelson Oliveira almost did it too, but he tried an over-complicated shot and the ball flew well wide

Then the official showed there would be four added minutes. What drama and what a goal to finish it all from Meireles.

Benfica launched a last-minute free-kick into the Chelsea area but it was headed clear and Meireles led the charge clear into the opponents’ half.

Many modern players would have ran for the corner flag to eat up time, but the former Liverpool man instead went for glory and lashed a right-foot shot into the roof of the net from distance.

Cue more flag-waving and another chorus of ‘Blue is the Colour’. They just about deserved it on the night, but Chelsea’s Champions League adventure is about to get a lot harder.

CHELSEA: Cech 7, Ivanovic 6, Cole 7, Luiz 6, Terry 6 (Cahill 59 6), Ramires 6, Lampard 8, Mikel 6, Torres 7 (Drogba 88, 5), Mata 7 (Meireles 79, 7), Kalou 6.

BENFICA: Artur 7, Emerson 6, Pereira 5, Capdevila 6, Javi Garcia 7, Bruno Cesar 6 (Rodrigo 72, 6), Aimar 7, Gaitan 7 (Djalo 61, 7) Matic 6, Witsel 6, Cardozo 6 (Oliveira 57, 7).

Ref: Damir Skomina (Slovenia).

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