Mata up for Barcelona test
Juan Mata acknowledged that Chelsea were forced to sweat in their victory over Benfica but also conceded that getting to the elite end of the Champions League always entails a little suffering. Now the Premier League side are determined to ensure that their semifinal tie with Barcelona will not be accompanied by excruciating pain.
Only when Raul Meireles rammed in a fearsome drive in added time did Chelsea look to be home and dry in their quarterfinal against opponents reduced to ten from the 40th minute following the dismissal of Maxi Pereira.
By that stage Benfica trailed 2-0 on aggregate but still they kept fighting, reluctant to admit that their ambition of a first European Cup semifinal for 22 years was a forlorn hope. They reduced the arrears through Javi García to engineer a heart-thumping climax but Chelsea had the last word.
"Benfica pushed us really close, as we knew they would," Juan Mata told Uefa.com. "They are a very strong team and we suffered after their goal went in in the 85th minute. But in the Champions League, if you want to reach the semifinals, you know you have to suffer. We are in the semifinals and it is a gift for us to be there. Barcelona have most of the best players in the world but we are Chelsea and we will fight."
Mata, the Uefa.com Player Rater winner who previously has not ventured past the quarterfinal stage of a European competition – two seasons ago his Valencia team were knocked out of the Uefa Europa League by fellow countrymen Club Atletico Madrid – said it was always special for him to face another Spanish team.
"Earlier this season I played against Valencia, my team for years, and now we're playing Barcelona. Are they beatable? In football nothing is impossible. Of course, it will be difficult. They can play just as well away as they can at home but we shall see. We are a side with more confidence now. That is the reason for our recent results."
As one of two defensive midfielders in the system now favoured by interim manager Roberto Di Matteo, John Obi Mikel knows he will be in for a busy night, both at Stamford Bridge on 18 April and at Camp Nou six days later.
"We are coming up against the best player in the world, the greatest player ever," said Mikel in salute to the genius of Lionel Messi. "We are playing the best team in the world right now but going into the match as underdogs might just play into our hands. We have played them a few times and we know what we have to do. Hopefully our physicality will see us through."