Two conflicting story lines surrounded the Champions League Quarterfinal ties between APOEL Nicosia vs Real Madrid and Chelsea vs Benfica on Tuesday.  APOEL was hoping to extend their Cinderella run through the Champions League, but were facing their most difficult opponent to date.  On the other side of the fixture list, Chelsea faced off against Benfica and their rabid fans during their away leg.

APOEL Nicosia vs. Real Madrid

APOEL faced the monstrous task of taking on the current best club in La Liga and likely the world.  Their home fans were in full force to see the La Liga leaders take on their beloved Cypriot side.  The task did not begin well for APOEL when one of their key defenders, Marcelo Oliveira, went down in the first ten minutes after twisting his knee during a challenge. After exiting the pitch on a stretcher, he was replaced by “the other” Kaka.  Real Madrid’s ferocious attack continued throughout the first half, one Cristiano Ronaldo cry for a penalty went unheeded after he was impeded by Savvas Poursaitidis. 

The Madrid attack continued as Mouinho’s side began to rack up shots, forcing several saves from round of 16 hero Dionisis Chiotis.  Madrid’s best opportunity of the first half was squandered by Karim Benzema whose first time attempt off a beautiful Nuri Sahin cross was lifted well over the net. In the closing moment of the first half Ronaldo had another attempt run just wide of the goal and the sides would go into the locker room even at 0-0. 

The second half kicked off with a Real Madrid attack right from the first whistle with Karim Benzema putting another shot over the bar.  A few minutes later Ronaldo’s best effort was also off target and the frustration from Jose Mourinho’s squad was beginning to show.  APOEL’s best attack of the match came a few minutes later thanks to some fancy dribbling by Brazilian attacker Ailton, who was taken down just outside the Madrid penalty area.  The ensuing free kick was squandered and APOEL still had not recorded a shot. 

In the 64th minute, Mourinho introduced Kaka and Marcelo for Gonzalo Higuain and Fabio Coentrao, and Kaka’s introduction yielded near immediate results with him winning a free kick in dangerous position for Madrid.  Ronaldo’s free kick deflected off the wall and bounced to Sergio Ramos whose attempt was blocked by APOEL defenders who scrambled to clear the ball away.  APOEL introduced Esteban Solari for the exhausted Helio Pinto, and APOEL continued to dig in hoping to escape with a 0-0 draw. 

The onslaught from Real Madrid was finally rewarded when substitutes Marcelo and Kaka linked up, with Kaka supplying a precise cross onto the forehead of Karim Benzema for the opening goal.  In the ensuing minutes Madrid continued to pile up the chances, with Ronaldo’s strike forcing another save from Chiotis, who has been impressive throughout APOEL’s Cinderella run.  Chiotis however was helpless to stop the combination of Marcelo and Kaka, who combined a magnificent run and diving pass from Marcelo and a clinical finish from Kaka to give Madrid a 2-0 lead.

The most beautiful part of the match was yet to come from Madrid, who did not let their foot off the gas after earning their 2-0 lead.  After receiving a pass in space from Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil played a silky smooth ball with the outside of his left foot across the goal to Karim Benzema who easily finished making the final score line 3-0 in favor of Madrid.  APOEL fought hard throughout the match, but were unable to record a shot despite their best efforts.  With the tie all but over, Madrid will head back to the Santiago Bernabeu with a healthy advantage and a clear path to the semi-final.

Chelsea vs. S.L. Benfica

Following consecutive unimpressive performances against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur over the past week, Chelsea was hoping to rebound during their Champions League away leg against Benfica.  The Portuguese side had other ideas in mind after falling to 3rd in the Portuguese Liga after their weekend draw against Olhanense, and the home crowd was in full effect as the Eagles took the field to face the final English team in the Champions League.

Roberto di Matteo’s squad choice caused some uproar among Chelsea supporters, with the inclusion of Paulo Ferreira at right back and Salomon Kalou joining Fernando Torres and Juan Mata in the attack.  The squad had a bit more Portuguese flavor than usual with the inclusion of Ferreira, Raul Meireles, and Brazilian David Luiz returned to face off against his former club.  The crowd expressed their appreciation for the service of David Luiz with the same enthusiasm they jeered former Porto star Meireles and the match began to the whistles and songs of the Benfica faithful.

The match began, with Chelsea on the back foot and Benfica taking the initiative forcing an early clearance from Ferreira before a second opportunity almost worked in Benfica’s favor thanks to Ferreira’s missed clearance, but nobody was in the area to take advantage.  Solid defensive work from Ramires, gave Chelsea an attacking opportunity in the early going, but Fernando Torres’ crosses were cleared by the Benfica defense. 

Despite the early opportunities from both sides, neither shied away from the match, David Luiz and John Terry both lead charges up the pitch, while remaining solid defensively at the back, while Ramires was causing major problems for the Benfica defense.   Raul Meireles was booked for a cynical trip on Nicolas Gaitan in the midfield, and the jeers for Meirles and Ferreira continued thanks to their Porto roots.  Just a minute later Benfica almost struck when Oscar Cardozo skillfully chested an aerial ball, but his left footed volley attempt ran wide of the post and Peter Cech and Chelsea breathed a sigh of relief. 

Benfica continued their attack, forcing several clearances from David Luiz before Bruno Cesar curled a long range effort straight into the waiting arms of Peter Cech.  Chelsea responded with an attack of their own, Fernando Torres created space just inside the penalty area, but his left footed shot soared over the goal.  Raul Meireles gave Chelsea their best opportunity of the half on a long range right footed attempt that forced a diving save from Benfica keeper Artur.  When the half time whistle blew, both sides had amassed opportunities, but neither was able to break the 0-0 deadlock.

Benfica began the second half with more attacking vigor from their midfield, but their repeated attacks were repelled by the Chelsea defense and a goal line clearance from David Luiz denied the Eagles a certain goal.  A few minutes later, Bruno Cesar’s long range effort was sent into the waiting hands of Cech, and another opportunity from Benfica was wasted.  Chelsea responded with an attack that ended with Fernando Torres’ cross being headed over the bar by Kalou and the deadlock continued.  A few minutes later Benfica was denied a penalty after a cross struck John Terry in the arm, but a penalty was not given and the ensuing shot was blocked by Ashley Cole.

Chelsea earned a surprise opportunity after a Peter Cech goal kick was controlled by Juan Mata in attacking position, and despite finding himself with time and space after successfully rounding Artur his narrow angle shot struck the post and went out of play.  Benfica came roaring back up the field and Axel Witsel’s long range effort took a deflection off John Terry and ended up on the roof of the net, giving Benfica a corner that amounted to nothing.  Benfica was not discouraged and their attack continued with a Nicolas Gaitan cross that Jardel headed towards goal, only to have it parried away by Peter Cech.

In the 68th minute Chelsea made their first substitution, introducing Frank Lampard for the oft-jeered Meireles just following Luisao’s booking for his 3rd foul of the match.  Two mintues later Benfica introduced a pair of substitutes, Rodrigo and, former Chelsea player, Nemanja Matic for Bruno Cesar and Pablo Aimar respectively. 

Ramires had a storming game and after failing to place a cross on a 72nd minute attack he changed the game three minutes later after a great dribbling run and pass to Fernando Torres who continued the run down the right flank before cutting inside and playing a perfect ball across two defenders to the foot of the waiting Salomon Kalou who gave Chelsea the away goal they so desperately desired.  Di Matteo was rewarded for Kalou’s controversial inclusion with the goal and Fernando Torres increased his impressive assist tally for the season. 

In the following ten minutes Chelsea used both of their remaining substitutions to bring on Jose Bosingwa for Paolo Ferreira and Daniel Sturridge for the goalscorer Kalou.  Sturridge made his impact immediately felt leading a counter attack that ended with Juan Mata’s chip just over the bar.  For the last ten minutes of the match, Benfica attempted various attacks that were thwarted by the disciplined Chelsea defense or collected calmly by Peter Cech.  After the final whistle blast, it was Roberto di Matteo’s squad that earned the much needed away goal and victory giving them the edge heading into the tie at Stamford Bridge.

Enjoy more Champions League action this afternoon with Barcelona taking on AC Milan and Bayern Munich face Marseille. 

Marcelo gets the background today because he played superbly and this photo is awesome.