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Football
First leg forward for Chelsea
Chelsea score valuable goal at Benfica as Real Madrid saunter to comfortable win at APOEL Nicosia in Champions League.
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2012 22:22
Fernando Torres and Juan Mata of Chelsea congratulate goal scorer Salomon Kalou [GALLO/GETTY]

The fortunes of Chelsea continue to improve under interim coach Roberto Di Matteo after his team claimed a crucial 1-0 victory over Benfica in the first-leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.

The result between Real Madrid and APOEL Nicosia was more predictable with the La Liga leaders taking a 3-0 advantage with them to the Bernabeu.

On the back of their remarkable turnaround against Napoli, Chelsea are now firm favourites to make it into the final four of the competition - a feat very few would have thought possible five weeks ago. 

Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Chelsea manager at the beginning of March following a disappointing run in the Premier League and a 3-1 defeat to Napoli in the first-leg of Europe's biggest club tournament.

"We haven't qualified yet. It's dangerous to think we're through... We've put ourselves in a good position, but it's not a result you can rely on for the home game"

Roberto Di Matteo

However, since AVB's early exit from Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have only lost one match to Manchester City under Di Matteo.

Chelsea took a 1-0 lead after Salomon Kalou's second-half goal gave his team their first away win in the competition this season.

Kalou tapped in Fernando Torres' cross from the right in the 75th minute to give Chelsea the advantage ahead of the Stamford Bridge match on April 4.

The lone English club left in the tournament managed only half the number of Benfica's 22 attempts on goal at the Stadium of Light, and they scored against the run of play.

"We were solid defensively and well-organised against a good team,'' Di Matteo said.

"We haven't qualified yet. It's dangerous to think we're through... We've put ourselves in a good position, but it's not a result you can rely on for the home game.''

Chelsea are fifth in the Premier League, outside the automatic qualification places for next season's elite European club tournament.

That means they may need to win the trophy this year to get back into the competition.

Fairytale over

In the other quarterfinal, Kaka and Karim Benzema combined to lead Real to a 3-0 first-leg win over Cypriot underdog APOEL Nicosia.

APOEL held out until the 74th minute when Kaka, on as a second-half substitute, crossed for Benzema to score the opening goal.

Kaka tapped in the second in the 82nd after Marcelo went on a determined run to the byline and managed to cut the ball back as he was falling.

Benzema, who missed an open goal in the first half, added his second goal in the last minute of normal time when he connected with a perfect pass from Mesut Oezil.

        Karim Benzema scored twice to help Real crush APOEL Nicosia in their quarterfinal [AFP]

Madrid controlled play from the start, besieging the APOEL goal and forcing the Cypriot team into a defensive shell to stifle Madrid's potent attack, who has scored an average three goals in each of their eight previous Champions League matches.

A volley from an unmarked Oezil from inside the box in the 12th was pushed away by APOEL goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis.

Benzema looked certain to give the visitors the lead their dominance deserved in the 34th when Nuri Sahin delivered a pass across goal - only for the French striker to scoop the ball over the bar from close range and with the goal gaping.

Nine-time champions Madrid continued to be frustrated in the second half.

Ronaldo misses with a long-range effort in the 49th before his free kick in the 67th cannoned off the wall and fell for Oezil, whose shot was blocked.

APOEL, meanwhile, never threatened the Madrid goal and were limited to a few attacking forays by Brazilian forward Ailton Almeida.

Madrid finished the match with 20 attempts on goal, to APOEL's zero, but it took the introduction of Kaka in the 64th minute to provide the spark for Madrid to break the deadlock, the Brazilian setting up the first goal and scoring the second before Benzema wrapped up a commanding away win.

APOEL, the first Cypriot team to reach the Champions League quarterfinals, suffered their heaviest loss so far in their historic campaign.

Source:
Agencies
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