LONDON — If Chelsea flirt with danger against Barcelona like they did at home to Benfica on Wednesday, their poor conversion rate of one Champions League final from five previous last-four appearances is likely to continue.
Chelsea, who looked second best for long periods, went through to their sixth semi in the last nine seasons after winning 2-1 in the second leg and 3-1 on aggregate, but they were close to losing the tie on away goals in the closing stages.
Instead the Londoners made it safe in stoppage time through a thunderbolt from Portuguese Raul Meireles, heckled in the first leg at Benfica last week for his previous Porto connections.
Chelsea took the lead with a Frank Lampard penalty after 21 minutes and had the chance to take a firm grip on the game when Benfica skipper Maxi Pereira was shown a second yellow card for a rash challenge on John Obi Mikel five minutes before halftime.
But instead Chelsea allowed Benfica to take the initiative for much of the second half and although the Premier League team did have chances, it was the visitors who got the important second goal when Javi Garcia headed home on 85 minutes.
That made the aggregate score 2-1 to Chelsea, but another goal for Benfica would have brought them level at 2-2 and they would have qualified instead.
Substitute Nelson Oliveira and Pablo Aimar both went close to getting the goal that would have eliminated Chelsea, but in the last significant action of the game, Chelsea broke.
Substitute Meireles ran unchallenged for almost 70m before smashing the ball past Artur to seal Chelsea’s place in the last four as they seek a first-ever European Cup title.
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus told reporters: “We’ve been the best team in Lisbon and London and even though we played most of the match with 10 men tonight, we made Chelsea look ordinary.
“We pushed them back into the final third and after coming back to 1-1 we nearly scored with a couple of really good chances, but in the end suffered on the last counter-attack and were finally beaten.
“But we go out as the better team with our heads held high.
“Of course it is frustrating to lose, but we weren’t helped by some poor referring decisions either.”
Benfica had 22 goal attempts with eight of them on target compared to Chelsea’s 15 with four on target and if they had grabbed a second in the dying minutes, the hosts would only have had themselves to blame for not wrapping up the victory earlier.
Chelsea’s interim coach Roberto Di Matteo — whose odds of earning the permanent job get shorter every day – knew his team were slightly fortunate, but also knows Champions League glory is all that really matters to owner Roman Abramovich. — Reuters