NICOSIA: Real Madrid and Chelsea appeared to be heading for the semi-finals of the Champions League after winning their quarter-final first legs away to APOEL Nicosia and Benfica.
APOEL held wasteful Madrid for 74 minutes before their defence collapsed. The first Cypriot team to make the last eight of any European competition, camped on the edge of their own penalty area for long periods to keep the nine-time winners at bay for much of the first half.
German midfielder Mezut Ozil almost scored an early opener for the Spanish visitors but his volley was saved well by Dionisos Chiotis then French striker Karim Benzema thumped the ball into the turf and over the bar. But, with 16 minutes left, there was relief for Benzema as he headed home an inswinging cross from substitute Kaka.
The lead was soon doubled and after Marcelo got the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo’s backheel, the left-back passed for Kaka to calmly slot home. In the final minute, the weary Apoel defenders crumbled as Ronaldo and Ozil combined well on the right for poacher Benzema to smash in his second on the night and the 26th Champions League goal of his career.
Chelsea took command of their quarter-final against Benfica after Salomon Kalou’s lone goal earned them a first-leg victory at the Estadio da Luz. The Blues had been described in the build-up as “not as good as we used to be” by a subsequently rested Frank Lampard, but they were comfortable enough during an low-key first half as Benfica moves came to nothing.
Oscar Cardozo volleyed wide after taking a long ball on his chest (19) but it was the visitors who had forced the only meaningful save by the break, Raul Meireles’ sweetly-struck skidder parried by Artur (40).
Cardozo would have rewarded a brighter Benfica after the restart had David Luiz not stood firm on the line but there were fine margins at the other end when Juan Mata rounded the goalkeeper, only to hit a post (61).
Fernando Torres had been erratic in front of goal but eager in appoach play, and it was a fine break down the right he made before affording Kalou a simple finish and the timeliest of first wins this term in Europe for Chelsea.