Real Madrid had only just ended APOEL Nicosia’s extraordinary run and reached the Champions League semifinals when Jose Mourinho’s thoughts turned to the potential opponent in the final. Barcelona is not favourite,it’s super favourite,” Mourinho said on Wednesday night. Barcelona will definitely play the final because they are very good.”
Mourinho was effectively writing off Chelsea’s prospects of pulling off an upset win over the titleholders after his former club had eliminated Benfica. First things,first. Mourinho’s Madrid must overcome Bayern Munich in the semifinals to keep alive his hopes of reaching the final,and delivering the club’s 10th European title.
A very dangerous rival,” said Mourinho,who won the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010 by beating Bayern. It’s a semifinal I want to play,that the players want to play,I think Europe will enjoy this semifinal.”
Conquering Bayern should be a tougher assignment than ending APOEL Nicosia’s remarkable run as the first Cypriot team to reach the knockout stages of the Europe’s illustrious competition. Madrid romped to a 5-2 victory 8-2 on aggregate as Cristiano Ronaldo raised his goal tally for the season to 49 with a strike in each half.
It was a nervier night for Chelsea despite going 2-0 up on aggregate in the 21st minute when Frank Lampard netted the return-leg opener from the penalty spot. Despite Maxi Pereira being sent off before half time,Javi Garcia headed Benfica back into the game in the 85th. Raul Meireles netted a stoppage-time goal to secure Chelsea’s 3-1 aggregate victory and a chance to avenge a bitter 2009 semifinal loss.
Everyone has unfinished business with them,” Lampard said. They are the greatest team in the world. They are going to be favourites but we have a lot of belief in ourselves. We have to perform at our best to beat them and we believe we can do that.”
If they do,the Blues could have to face former coach Mourinho in Munich on May 19. Madrid’s passage to the last four never appeared in doubt at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium as APOEL was overpowered.
Ronaldo tapped Marcelo’s cross into the net at the back post in the 26th and Kaka doubled the lead with a shot from the edge of the area 10 minutes later. APOEL exploited a lapse in Madrid’s concentration to pull one back,with Gustavo Manduca scoring in the 67th.
But Madrid responded in the 75th with Ronaldo’s free kick curling over the defensive wall into the top corner and Jose Callejon completed an individual run with a low finish into the net five minutes later. While APOEL pulled another back when Esteban Solari scored from the spot,Angel di Maria lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Urko Pardo to round off Madrid’s victory.
Return to form
Chelseas return to the semifinals after a three-year absence represents the latest step in the team’s revival under interim coach Roberto Di Matteo following Andre Villas-Boas’ dismissal last month. Winning the Champions League for the first time could be Chelsea’s only way of playing in the competition next season as the team sits out of the Premier League’s top four.
Tough road ahead
Di Matteo knows his team will have to lift its game against Barcelona on April 18 and 24. I think the team wasn’t as sparkling (against Benfica) as we were hoping it would be,” he said. Maybe they were a bit tired,but we’re pleased to have won the game and gone through. We deserved it over the two legs.”
In control after the first leg,the quarterfinal turned further in Chelsea’s favour after Garcia’s challenge on Ashley Cole in the penalty area led to Lampard netting from spot. But even though Pereira was sent off following a lunge on John Obi Mikel,Benfica did not look like a side playing with 10 men.
Chelsea will be thankful that the visitors matched their lack of ruthlessness up front until Garcia’s header finally breached Petr Cech’s goal. Had Nelson Oliveira found the target soon after,Benfica would have been heading into the last four but Chelsea clung on with Meireles’ strike easing the late nerves.
We have been the better team in both legs and I am very proud of my men,” Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said through a translator. We have played with 10 men for the best part of an hour and we were still the better team and made Chelsea look ordinary. We were penalised by the referee unjustly I feel.”