Real and Chelsea in pole spots after away day wins

Real and Chelsea in pole spots after away day wins

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Real and Chelsea in pole spots after away day wins

Real Madrid’s German midfielder Mesut Özil was instrumental in his team’s 3-0 win over APOEL and distributed one assist in the game. AFP photo

Real Madrid and Chelsea took giant strides towards the Champions League semifinals on March 27 as they both recorded away wins in their quarterfinal first leg matches.

A double from French striker Karim Benzema inspired nine-time winner Real to a 3-0 victory over Cypriot surprise packages APOEL Nicosia and all but ensured a last four spot against the winners of Marseille and Bayern Munich.

A second-half goal from Salomon Kalou gave Chelsea a 1-0 win over Portuguese outfit Benfica - ironically the only side playing on Tuesday that didn’t field a Portuguese player in its starting line-up - to inflict the hosts first home defeat in Europe this term.

It puts the English side in a strong position for next week’s second leg and a semi-final against either holders Barcelona or AC Milan.

APOEL had worked wonders to reach this stage - unprecedented for a Cypriot club - but their limitations were painfully exposed by a Real side bursting with superstars the hosts lacked.

APOEL’s tactic of holding out for a draw - they failed to muster a shot on goal - worked until well into the second-half but then Benzema redeemed himself for a terrible miss in the first-half.

The Frenchman broke the deadlock with just over a quarter of an hour remaining with a diving header from substitute Kaka’s left-wing cross. Kaka scored the second after great work down the left by fellow Brazilian Marcelo. Benzema added a third shortly before the final whistle, tapping home after a superb pass from Mesut Özil.

Mourinho pleased

Coach Jose Mourinho, bidding to win the trophy for a third time with a different team having won with Porto and Inter, was pleased with Real’s performance.

“I am happy because my team took to the task seriously and dominated the game against a team that gave us a lot of headaches,” he said. “They made life difficult for us, with their fantastic tactics and their extraordinary team spirit.”

Kalou’s goal in Lisbon puts Chelsea firmly on course to reach their sixth Champions League semi-final in nine seasons and gives interim coach Roberto Di Matteo an unexpected chance of collecting two pieces of silverware as they are also in the FA Cup semi-finals.

“It’s terrific, you couldn’t have hoped for a better result,” a delighted Di Matteo said. “Nothing is over. There is still another match to play. But we will have home advantage and we will try and qualify.”