Chelsea put one foot in this year’s Europa League final after David Luiz struck a late winner against FC Basle at St Jakob’s Park in the semi-final first leg on Thursday evening.
The Brazilian’s superb free-kick earned the Blues a 1-2 success that was well warranted – and they will now be strongly fancied to get the job done at Stamford Bridge in order to reach the showpiece final at the Amsterdam Arena in May.
Conquerors of Chelsea’s London rivals Spurs at the quarter-final stage, Basle have impressed throughout the competition and were expected to cause Rafa Benitez’s side problems on home soil where they are often so effective in front of their passionate partisan crowd.
But the Swiss champions found themselves on the back foot just 12 minutes in when Chelsea took the lead and claimed a crucial early away goal through Victor Moses who pounced on the end of a Frank Lampard corner.
Chelsea could have been further ahead before the break but for Ramires being foiled by Basle keeper Yann Sommer and Eden Hazard scuffing a well carved opportunity wide of the post.
The visitors continued to threaten for much of the second period and hit the woodwork through Fernando Torres, however their inability to convert chances was ultimately punished three minutes from time when Basle were awarded a penalty after Cesar Azpillicueta was adjudged to have fouled Valentin Stocker in the area.
Fabian Schar made no mistake from the spot and it looked for all money as if Murat Yakin’s charges would escape the first leg with a draw to take to Stamford Bridge in seven days time.
David Luiz had other ideas however and after Chelsea were given a free-kick in a dangerous area deep into overtime, Luiz struck gold to clinch his team a win that puts them in the driving seat for the second leg in West London next Thursday.
Despite having plenty of work still to do, Benitez will undoubtedly have one eye on Chelsea’s potential final opponents and it is still anyone’s guess as to who will prevail from the second semi-final following Fenerbahce and Benfica’s first leg tie.
The Turkish side demonstrated their force at home in the last eight against Lazio and they produced the goods once again on Thursday to edge ahead of their illustrious opponents 1-0 at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.
Egeman Korkmaz’s 72nd minute header was the difference between the two teams at the final whistle however the hosts could have finished further clear after hitting the woodwork three times throughout the match.
Benfica may well feel that they escaped lightly after being second best for the majority of the tie but the Portuguese giants will be confident of turning thing around at the Stadium of Light.
Fenerbahce protected their first leg advantage well against Lazio in the last round but with only a slender lead this time around, things are expected to be a lot tougher for Aykut Kocaman’s side who have been found wanting on the road in the past at the highest level.