SALOMON KALOU slotted a priceless away goal as Chelsea took down Benfica in their Champions League quarter-final first leg. The Ivorian winger, starting in a mix-and-match Blues side, was on hand to convert a Fernando Torres cross on 74 minutes.
It was no less than Roberto Di Matteo's men deserved at the Stadium of Light on a night when Juan Mata struck the woodwork on the hour also.
Chelsea will now eagerly anticipate the return game at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.
The start to the game lacked intensity only coming to life when the much-booed 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.
Torres was blowing typically hot and cold for Chelsea, volleying over wildly after some excellent chest control. Cardozo had another sniff when he nodded Gaitan's pinpoint cross over the top, while 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 best moves were leading nowhere — as were Torres' best efforts, with another finish sailing over after some neat footwork.
With five minutes remaining 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 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.
Mata could have immediately rubbed salt into the wound by giving Chelsea the lead on the hour.
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 Frank 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 sadly 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 in the box and kept his composure to square for Kalou to slide home.
Ramires had 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.
They almost paid in stoppage-time when Cole stabbed Gaitan's cross narrowly wide of his own goal.
Benfica: Artur Moraes, Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Jardel, Emerson, Aimar (Matic 69), Javi Garcia (Nolito 81), Bruno Cesar (Rodrigo Moreno 69), Witsel, Gaitan, Cardozo Subs Not Used: Eduardo, Nelson Oliveira, Miguel Vitor, Saviola.
Booked: Bruno Cesar, Luisao, Javi Garcia.
Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira (Bosingwa 80), Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Meireles (Lampard 68), Mata, Mikel, Kalou (Sturridge 82), Torres. Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Essien, Drogba, Cahill
Goals: Kalou 75.
Ref: Paolo Tagliavento (Italy)
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