LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Pablo Aimar of Benfica is closed down by Mikel of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Benfica at Stamford Bridge on April 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
I have to admit, prior to our semifinal I was rather fond of Benfica. They're one of the few Portuguese teams I get to watch at least semi-regularly, and the David Luiz and Ramires transfers made me appreciate their role in developing South American talent (and likeable players to boot). They were fun to watch in the group stages, played two neat matches against Zenit St. Petersburg in the first knockout round and were poised for a very interesting quarterfinal battle against Chelsea.
And then they played terribly in Lisbon, lost, and whined about it. A lot.
And then they did the same at Stamford Bridge, where a hilarious lack of discipline saw them concede an entirely legitimate penalty and two bookings for Maxi Pereira, which ultimately led to them losing 2-1 on the night and being knocked out of the Champions League. Here's Jorge Jesus on the defeat:
Here's a list of the teams Benfica have knocked out of this competition: Zenit St. Petersburg. Sure, they finished first in the group stages, but the key battle there was FC Basel vs. Manchester United, and it's Basel who can claim United's scalp. Benfica didn't even play in the match that saw Otelul Galati officially eliminated.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have knocked out Valencia, Napoli and now Benfica, and I can say with 100% certainty that it was the Serie A side that were our most dangerous opposition. Benfica might think that Zenit are a better side than this Chelsea - they're not - but Napoli certainly are stronger than the team we saw over two legs in this quarterfinal. And did Walter Mazzarri complain about a tie that could easily have gone either way? To his great credit, he did not.
Meanwhile, Benfica are lodging a complaint over the officiating at Stamford Bridge:
We can't understand how a Slovenian referee was in charge of this match and we will explain our position to the Portuguese Football Federation. I don't know whether the federation is capable of doing anything.
Surely everyone saw what happened here. It is evident that this is a business and that there was no desire to see Benfica go through. Refereeing has reached a scandalous point.
-Luis Felipe Vieira, Benfica president. Source: ESPN Soccernet.
Nice bit of casual racism/xenophobia towards the Slovenes there from Mr. Vieira. Apparently it's the referee's fault that Maxi Pereira a) can't shut up and b) can't tackle. Sure, Benfica probably deserved a penalty in the first leg, but that was borderline, and Javi Garcia's foul on Ashley Cole most emphatically was not.
If Benfica had any sort of point, I'd be happy to concede it to them, but they appear to be portraying themselves as victims simply because they had a little bit more of the ball over two legs and a close call went against them in Lisbon. They're sad victims of football's possession fetish, which apparently says that if you control the midfield, you deserve to win the game. Nevermind that Chelsea generated more real chances* and put three times as many away over the course of 180 minutes. Nevermind that neither the red card nor the penalty were debatable.
*The shot tally favours Benfica so heavily because they were shooting wildly from 25 yards every time they couldn't get through the Chelsea defence, which was all the time.
Ultimately, Benfica were worse than a poor Chelsea over both legs. There's no controversy here. Perhaps if they hadn't talked themselves up so much prior to both games, they wouldn't be forced to embarrass themselves further out of sheer bloody-mindedness.