Salomon Kalou's 75th-minute winner provided a vital away goal in the quarterfinal first leg clash but the interim Blues coach had special word for his defenders after the match.Roberto Di Matteo made clear his satisfaction after his Chelsea side defeated Benfica 1-0 at the Estadio da Luz to take control of their Champions League quarterfinal.
A lone goal from Salomon Kalou put the icing on the cake of a determined defensive performance from the Blues and the Italian had particular praise for his back line after the match.
“It’s terrific. We couldn’t have hoped for a better result,” Di Matteo told Sky Sports. “I told you before the game we would need to score and we went close on a number of occasions, and then to keep a clean sheet as well – another one – I think we looked defensively very, very good again.
“Defensively, we never looked in any danger. They obviously had some set plays where they were dangerous because they are a physical, big side. But, apart from that, I think Petr [Cech] had a few saves to make but they were mostly long-range.”
The Italian made some big decisions before the game, benching veterans Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien as well as fielding Paulo Ferreira at right back in the Portuguese’s first start of 2012.
Asked what pleased him most about the performance, Di Matteo explained: “The all-round team performance, but I’m very pleased for Paulo Ferreira. He’s come into the team after a long spell out, not involved, and he’s had a great game. I didn’t think it was a gamble, but sometimes in life you have to take a little risk.”
Di Matteo was also impressed by the energy levels on show in Portugal and was at pains to praise his squad despite the success of his own tactical decisions.
“For 90 minutes we had to run, challenge and win tackles, and it was important as I knew that they were playing at a high tempo,” Di Matteo observed. “The fact that we’re playing all of these teams, it’s important that we try to select a team that has the energy to be able to be competitive. I’m working with the players and they deserve all the credit they get because we’ve got a lot of stick this season.
“They’ve been fantastic with me, for me, and all they’re doing, they’re doing it for themselves, for the club and for our supporters. And our supporters tonight have been magnificent, as well.”
The 41-year-old warned, however, that there remains plenty of work to do in the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
“You know how football is – nothing is over,” he cautioned. “There’s still another 90 minutes to play. We’re going to have the home advantage and we’re going to try to qualify for the next round.”
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