Benfica 0-1 Chelsea: Late Kalou winner puts Di Matteo's men in control of Champions League tie
The Ivorian tapped in after Fernando Torres' hard-working assist to top off an unspectacular but determined away victory in Portugal, setting the Blues up well for the second leg
By George Ankers
After a slow first half, the match heated up in the second period when Jardel came close with a free header before Fernando Torres' weaved into the opposition penalty area to find Kalou in space to prod home untroubled with 15 minutes to go.
The home side lined up with reported Manchester United targets Nicolas Gaitan and Javi Garcia included in midfield alongside experienced Argentine Pablo Aimar, with Oscar Cardozo leading the line.
Roberto Di Matteo, however, opted to leave veterans Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien on the bench, with Torres starting up front and former Benfica man David Luiz at centre-back in place of Gary Cahill, with Paulo Ferreira given his first start of 2012.
The opening stages were cautious and scrappy, the game not seeing any sign of life until the 19th minute when Cardozo moved ahead of John Terry to take control of an overhead pass from Bruno Cesar, the tall Paraguayan attempting to volley it in but unable to find sufficient space and thusly shot wide.
Cardozo remained the main target of Benfica’s attacks, first heading high from an awkward position before forcing Luiz to execute a difficult, but stylish, juggle of an attempted cross before he could clear the danger.
Ex-Porto man Raul Meireles, who was booed throughout, nearly capitalised with a long-range effort after Kalou teed him up.
The Ivorian advanced down the left before pulling it back into the Portuguese’s path, and the midfielder drew a fine low stop from Artur with his driven effort.
Half-time then arrived with neither side finding a breakthrough.
The second period began with howls for handball. Benfica were forward in numbers for a long throw and Cardozo picked the ball up just outside the area. The Paraguayan unleashed a rasping left-footed shot bound for goal but Luiz reacted on the line to block, to the fury of the home fans who felt that he had handled.
Chelsea, though, should arguably have taken the lead a moment later. Torres continued his fine build-up play, this time cutting in from the left to dink a cross in for Kalou, who had stolen a crucial inch from his marker in the area, but the Ivorian’s header ballooned ineffectively wide.
After an optimistic penalty shout from Benfica, when Maxi Pereira’s shot cannoned back off Terry’s arm following an admirable Ashley Cole block, the Blues’ clearest chance arrived when Jardel failed to anticipate a long ball forward and allowed Juan Mata to run in behind him. The Spaniard circled Artur but was unable to apply the necessary finish, hitting the post fruitlessly as the angle closed.
Axel Witsel gave Cech a scare on 65 minutes when, having scrapped past John Obi Mikel, the Belgian’s shot deflected heavily off Terry. The keeper was motionless as he watched it land on top of the net.
Benfica kept coming, with Gaitan finding space on the flanks. One such delivery was swung onto the head of the unmarked Jardel, only for a subsequent poor header to follow.
Chelsea, though, found the vital away goal on 75 minutes. Ramires fought hard on the right of midfield, supplying Torres further forward on the wing. The Spaniard did most of the work, closing in with purpose before feeding Kalou in the middle. Artur was taken out of the picture so the forward needed only to poke home from mere yards to take the lead.
The home side pushed desperately to even the score but it allowed the Blues to break, substitute Daniel Sturridge stretching play before passing to Mata on the left. The Spaniard’s resulting lob lacked accuracy.
Benfica nearly grabbed the leveller deep into stoppage time when Cole was forced to stick a leg to block a cross causing the ball to divert just wide of his own goal.
Overall the home side lacked punch and Chelsea were able to see the game through to assume control of the tie.
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