Chelsea nervously beat 10-man Benfica 2-1 in their Champions League quarter-final second leg at Stamford Bridge to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory and set up a semi-final with holders Barcelona later this month.
Chelsea doubled their aggregate advantage when Frank Lampard scored a 21st-minute penalty and their grip on the game tightened five minutes before halftime when Benfica skipper Maxi Pereira was sent off for a second yellow card after a lunge.
Javi Garcia headed in from close range on 85 minutes to prompt an awkward finale for the Londoners before Raul Meireles struck in stoppage time.
“We knew… we were going to face a difficult game tonight and so it proved,” Chelsea interim manager Roberto Di Matteo told ITV.
“The second goal was missing to kill the game off.”
Asked about next opponents Barca, who Chelsea host in the last-four first leg on April 18, the Italian said: “They probably are one of the best teams if not the best team in the world.”
Chelsea have now reached the semi-final for the sixth time in the last nine seasons.
However, they have made only one final and have never won the competition.
Benfica began with all guns blazing and although they came close to scoring at regular intervals, Chelsea defended superbly.
Defender John Terry, who later went off injured, was forced to clear a shot from Oscar Cardozo off the line while goalkeeper Petr Cech made a superb diving save from Pablo Aimar at the start of the second half.
Chelsea’s breakthrough came when makeshift defender Garcia clattered into Ashley Cole to concede a clear penalty and Lampard scored from the spot, although Artur got a hand to the ball.
Benfica, who won the second and last of their two European Cups 50 years ago, came into the match having scored in all of their away games in the competition and seemed intent on keeping that record intact.
They finally scored after spells of pressure through Garcia’s flicked header when Cech could have done better. The visitors then went close to a sensational winner which would have put them through.
However, Chelsea broke upfield and Portuguese Meireles blasted home to end his compatriots’ hopes and send Stamford Bridge into delirium.
In today’s other game, Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid enjoyed one of their most comfortable passages into the semi-finals with a 5-2 victory over APOEL Nicosia, progressing 8-2 on aggregate.
Ronaldo and Kaka, two of the world’s most expensive players, scored before the break, the second from the Brazilian a wonderful curling effort from outside the area.
Gustavo Manduca had the noisy travelling support in full song after he broke away to pull one back for APOEL in the 67th minute, but Ronaldo with a freekick and Jose Callejon quickly restored order at the Bernabeu.
Esteban Solari netted a penalty for the competition debutants but Angel Di Maria immediately lobbed a fifth for Real who eased into a semi-final meeting with Bayern Munich.
“Our objective has been achieved, we won, and we are in the semis against Bayern,” Ronaldo told Spanish television.
“Bayern will be very difficult. They are the type of team who can win the Champions League so it will be extremely tough.”
APOEL’s colourful and raucous fans were the most exciting part of the opening half hour as Real laid siege to their goal without making much headway.
Ronaldo had come close twice before he breached their defence in the 26th minute, tapping in from Marcelo’s low cross.
Kaka curled in a second from outside the area in the 37th minute and as halftime approached he curled another effort against the post.
Complacency crept into Real’s game and APOEL took full advantage, a well-worked passing move setting Manduca through to score wide of Iker Casillas.
Constantinos Charalambides forced Casillas into a fingertip save, but Ronaldo ended the wobble with a swerving freekick from wide of the area that arrowed into the top corner in the 75th.
Substitute Jose Callejon fired in a low shot five minutes later, but APOEL’s fans had more to cheer when Hamit Altintop brought down Aldo Adorno and Solari scored from the spot.
Di Maria rounded off the scoring in the 84th minute.