Chelsea beat Benfica – but is this the end of the road?
On current form, Chelsea won't make the final - and Mourinho hints there are more sinister reasons
Chelsea 2 Benfica 1 (3-1 on aggregate). First the good news. Chelsea are into their sixth Champions League semi-final in nine years after a nervy defeat of Benfica at Stamford Bridge. A first-half penalty from Frank Lampard and a stunning strike from Raul Meireles late on after Javi Garcia's equaliser ensured the Blues' passage to the last four.
Now the bad news. Barcelona await Chelsea in the first leg of the semi-final in a fortnight and on last night's showing the London side will pose few problems for the reigning champions.
Benfica dominated possession for much of last night's encounter but the Portuguese side couldn't find the killer edge in front of goal. Their plight was hardly helped by the first-half dismissal of captain Maxi Pereira, yet even against ten men Chelsea struggled.
One man who has already written off Chelsea's chances of reaching next month's final is their former coach Jose Mourinho. Not just because of Chelsea's current form - but because, he intimated, dark forces will ensure Barcelona play Bayern in Munich on May 19.
After watching his Real Madrid side set up a last four encounter with Bayern Munich – courtesy of a 5-2 defeat of Apoel Nicosia – the ever controversial Mourinho said: "Let me be honest. I don't think the final will be a Real Madrid - Chelsea final... I prefer to say only this: I don't think it will be Real v Chelsea. It could be Bayern or Barcelona, I just don't think it will be Real Madrid versus Chelsea - and you know why."
The Daily Mirror is among those who assume Mourinho can only be refering to the last time Chelsea met Barca in a Champions League semi-final three years ago. The Blues lost the second leg at Stamford Bridge after a series of highly controversial refereeing decisions by Tom Henning Ovrebo went against them. Ovrebo received death threats as a result and had to be smuggled out of Britain under a police escort.
Frank Lampard is among those still troubled by the memory of that match. "That game is still in our minds," admitted the midfielder. "Everyone has unfinished business with them."
Asked if he made Barcelona favourites for the encounter, Lampard replied: "You have to respect they are the greatest team in the world - they have been and still are… We know we'll have to perform at our absolute best to beat them and we believe we can do that."
Defending a one-goal advantage from the first leg against Benfica, Chelsea got the show on the road last night way after 21 minutes when Ashley Cole was impeded in the penalty box by Javi Garcia. Lampard's well struck spot kick was too powerful for keeper Artur and when Pereira was shown a second yellow card for a nasty challenge on Jon Obi Mikel it left Benfica requiring a miracle.
After Garcia headed the equaliser on 85 minutes, a Chelsea counter attack on the stroke of full-time concluded with Meireles thumping the ball into the visitors' net.
"A lot of our players have some history against Barcelona and they certainly felt they were a bit hard done by when they played against them three years ago," said Chelsea's caretaker manager Roberto di Matteo. "It will be exciting to play two games against one of the best teams in the world. We will find a strategy that will suit our players and our team to face Barcelona."