Salomon Kalou (75 mins)
UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final First Leg
, Mar 27, 2012
Ground: Estadio da Luz , Kickoff: 19:45 , Att 65,000
Di Matteo defends Blues Chelsea caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo launched a robust defence of the quality of his squad ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Benfica after Frank Lampard claimed he and his team-mates were "not as good as we used to be".
Lampard used the club's in-house television channel to deliver a withering assessment of the Blues' season, which sees them in real danger of failing to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Di Matteo admitted Chelsea - who are five points adrift of the Barclays Premier League top four - had endured a turbulent campaign.
"The numbers say that, so there is no point in denying it's been a difficult season," he said.
"But we have quality in this team and many good players. I still think this Chelsea team is a very good team." Di Matteo, whose side go into their quarter-final first leg in Portugal as England's sole remaining European representative, added: "Chelsea used to be in the top two or top three, at least. So it's been hard for us, domestically.
"But we're in the semi-finals of a domestic cup, and in the quarter-finals of the Champions League." Lampard also admitted Chelsea had allowed their intensity level to drop since their historic last-16 comeback to beat Napoli.
Di Matteo added: "I have faith in this team. They've shown they can play at high intensity at a high level, so I'm looking forward to my team doing that again tomorrow.
"I am positive about the team, but my players are positive too.
"We have great belief in our abilities. That's what we're going to try and express tomorrow." Benfica boss Jorge Jesus, meanwhile, told Didier Drogba his side would react to a perceived slight from the Chelsea striker by winning their clash in Lisbon.
Benfica appear to have taken offence at a video on the London club's official website which some have claimed shows Drogba feigning fear at having drawn Jesus' men.
Chelsea defender David Luiz - the former Benfica player - suggested on Monday evening that Drogba was actually reacting to the prospect of facing Barcelona in the semi-finals, insisting his team-mate had not been disrespecting Benfica.
Jesus accepted the forward was "probably just joking", but added: "Drogba only knows what he's thinking.
"You have to remember that Benfica and Sporting Lisbon eliminated Manchester United and Manchester City, the two top teams in England, from Europe.
"Any responses we'll be giving to Drogba will be on the field and proving we are better than him." Luiz attempted to clear up the matter, which Chelsea themselves branded "a complete misunderstanding".
Luiz said: "If people watch the video closely, it's not directed at Benfica.
"He was talking about Barcelona because Barcelona are a very, very big team.
"Chelsea know how Benfica reached this far. They're a strong team.
Benfica vs Chelsea
Last modified 22:17 27/03/12
Blues hold narrow advantage Chelsea may not be as good as they used to be but even a makeshift line-up was strong enough to put them in touching distance of the Champions League semi-finals with 1-0 win at Benfica.
There was as little to fear from Benfica as Didier Drogba allegedly indicated, the side that helped eliminate Manchester United producing arguably one of the most toothless performances ever witnessed in a quarter-final home leg.
Roberto Di Matteo's gamble of resting six players - including the veterans who inspired the historic last-16 comeback against Napoli - therefore paid off, with Salomon Kalou's late winner putting Chelsea on course for a sixth semi-final in nine years.
The fact the Blues look set to finish in the top four in Europe is all the more remarkable considering their are unlikely to do the same in the Barclays Premier League.
Di Matteo's selection invoked memories of Andre Villas-Boas' doomed starting XI in the away leg against Napoli but tiredness appeared to be a justification on this occasion.
It also arguably suggested Chelsea's priority lay in ensuring they qualify for next season's Champions League rather than win this year's.
Benfica, though, may have interpreted it as disrespectful, having already taken offence at a perceived slight from Drogba when the quarter-final draw was made.
Surprisingly, the 65,000-capacity Estadio da Luz was far from full, something that was reflected by a strange atmosphere.
The game lacked intensity in the opening 18 minutes but it finally came to life when Raul Meireles was booked for tripping Nicolas Gaitan in full flight.
Moments later, John Terry was caught out by a Bruno Cesar ball over the top but recovered to put off Oscar Cardozo as the striker tried to finish.
Fernando Torres volleyed over wildly after some excellent chest control, before Cardozo nodded Gaitan's pinpoint cross over the top, then Maxi Pereira's ball forced a panicky clearance from David Luiz.
Meireles drilled over from 25 yards before appearing to get away with a handball in the centre-circle.
Benfica were marginally on top but even their slickest moves were leading nowhere, as were Torres' best efforts, another finish sailing over after some neat footwork.
Five minutes before half-time, a goalkeeper was finally called into a meaningful save when Meireles' skidding 25-yarder was palmed wide by Artur.
Luiz was lucky to escape a caution for felling Pablo Aimar moments after the restart but was in the right place at the right time after the free-kick was played in, clearing Cardozo's stinging strike off the line.
Benfica were finally playing with some urgency but their accuracy continued to let them down, as did Kalou's when he wasted a glorious chance for Chelsea, heading over Torres' left-wing cross.
There were handball shouts against Terry when he blocked Pereira's follow-up after Ashley Cole had thrown himself at the initial shot.
Juan Mata could have immediately rubbed salt into the wound by giving Chelsea the lead on the hour mark. Petr Cech's clearance went straight over the Benfica defence to Mata, who rounded Artur but hit the post from a narrow angle.
Axel Witsel's deflected drive almost looped over Cech, who would have been beaten had Jardel's bullet header from Gaitain's cross been either side of him.
Luisao picked up a yellow card for felling Ramires before Di Matteo withdrew Meireles for Lampard, opposite number Jorge Jesus immediately responding by taking off Aimar and Cesar for Rodrigo and Nemanja Matic.
If Benfica were hoping that would be the catalyst for a final push, they were mistaken as Chelsea took the lead 15 minutes from time.
Ramires showed remarkable determination and no little skill down the right to release Torres, who burst into the box and kept his composure to squad for Kalou to slide home.
Ramires hurt himself in the process of creating the chance but was able to continue as Chelsea looked to hold on to a lead away from home in Europe for the first time this season.
Benfica threw on Nolito for Javi Garcia, while Ferreira and Kalou came off for Jose Bosingwa and Daniel Sturridge, whose breakaway should have seen Chelsea kill the game when they wasted a four-on-two chance.
|Player rating out of ten||Player name||Substitution||Did they score?||Player's disciplinary record||Rating|
|1||Guilherme Artur Moraes||6/10|
|14||Victorio Maxi Pereira||6/10|
|10||Pablo Aimar(sub 68)||6/10|
|6||Francisco Javi Garcia(sub 80)||5/10|
|8||Zanaki Bruno Cesar(sub 68)||6/10|
|9||Manuel Agudo Nolito(sub 80)||7/10|
|16||Miguel Nelson Oliveira|
|19||Machado Rodrigo Moreno(sub 68)||6/10|
|21||Nemanja Matic(sub 68)||5/10|
|27||Angelo Miguel Vitor|
|Player rating out of ten||Player name||Did they score?||Player's disciplinary record||Substitution||Rating|
|19||Paulo Ferreira(sub 79)||6/10|
|16||Raul Meireles(sub 67)||6/10|
|21||Salomon Kalou(sub 81)||7/10|
|8||Frank Lampard(sub 67)||7/10|
|17||Jose Bosingwa(sub 79)||6/10|
|23||Daniel Sturridge(sub 81)||7/10|