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Real breeze, Chelsea squeeze to CL semis

PARIS, France, April 4 – Nine-time champions Real Madrid and Chelsea both booked their places in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday but in vastly different fashions.

Real beat the surprise packages of the competition APOEL Nicosia 5-2 at the Bernabeu – Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a double to take him to 49 goals for the season – and an 8-2 aggregate win to seal a semi-final meeting with four-time winners Bayern Munich.

Chelsea, though, look far from being able to cope with holders Barcelona in their last four meeting if they repeat their performance in the wobbly 2-1 home win – 3-1 on aggregate – over a Benfica side that was down to 10 men after 40 minutes.

The visitors played the more fluent football and deservedly equalised six minutes from time before Chelsea’s Portuguese substitute Raul Meireles sealed the Blues place in the last four for the sixth time in nine years.

It will be their fifth semi-final meeting with Barcelona, with the Catalans holding a 3-1 advantage.

Chelsea had looked to be cruising when Javi Garcia bundled over Ashley Cole in the penalty area and Frank Lampard squeezed home the resulting penalty in the 21st minute despite ‘keeper Artur getting a hand to it.

It was the England veteran’s 22nd Champions League goal and 184th for the club.

The odds were stacked further against Benfica in the 40th minute when their skipper for the game Uruguayan Maxi Pereira went in studs showing on Jon Obi Mikel and was sent off for a second bookable offence.

The hosts should have made it 2-0 in the 50th minute and only Brazilian midfielder Ramires will know how he failed to tap into an empty net from a yard out after being set up by Salomon Kalou.

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Despite the one man disadvantage it was Benfica who produced the best football and it was little surprise when Javi Garcia levelled with six minutes remaining.

However, Meireles broke free in stoppage time as Benfica pressed all their players forward and the Portuguese international made no mistake with a rising effort from the edge of the area.

Ronaldo’s double may have taken him to one shy of the half century mark, but it is still nine behind great rival Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

His second-half free kick was almost as sublime as Brazilian star Kaka’s first-half effort a curling shot from out on the left.

However, the Cypriot side – who confusingly had their own Kaka playing in the game as well – bowed out far from humiliated and delighted to have come to the Bernabeu and scored twice, something many La Liga teams would kill for.

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