In the end, the reunion could hardly have gone any better. Former SL Benfica defender David Luiz left the pitch of his erstwhile home ground having shone for Chelsea FC in a 1-0 win and with the applause of the locals ringing in his ears – but he quickly leapt on suggestions that his current employers are all but through to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Chelsea displayed patience and focus at the back to keep their Portuguese rivals quiet throughout the first half and they dealt admirably with an increase in pressure after the break. Intermittently dangerous on the counterattack, the London club subsequently built on those foundations to clinch a first away victory in this season's competition when Salomon Kalou slid in Fernando Torres's cross with a quarter of an hour to go.
"We knew we would have lots of difficulties here and we knew Benfica would look to score at every moment, but in the end we managed to score a goal and not concede any," said the Brazil centre-back, who joined the Blues after four years in Lisbon in January 2011. "We have a great advantage for the second leg, but nothing's decided yet.
Benfica are a really strong team and the second game will be even more difficult than this one, but we'll be prepared for everything."
An energetic presence alongside John Terry in Chelsea's rearguard, Luiz prevented his old side from taking a second-half lead when he blocked Óscar Cardozo's ferocious volley on the goal line, and his constant willingness to carry the ball upfield helped relieve pressure. It was a performance that had Benfica fans feeling nostalgic and, despite their disappointment, they duly showed their appreciation after the final whistle.
"I felt very happy to come back home and be welcomed in such a warm way," Luiz explained. "Their recognition of my work was very gratifying. I gave everything for Benfica during my stay here and I was delighted with my welcome. However, I'm a professional and I showed that here tonight.
I showed that I'm not just a player but a man with character, and that's what I aim to be on and off the pitch. Obviously, it was a special game."
Another player happy to be involved was Paulo Ferreira, manager Roberto Di Matteo's surprise choice to fill in for the injured Branislav Ivanović at right-back. The Portuguese defender was making his first appearance for Chelsea in 2012, and he praised his team's mature approach to the game. "We showed humility by defending when we had to defend," he said. "We played against a good side with good players and today I think everyone played for the team, all together."
Despite the clear advantage, the 33-year-old is now anticipating another testing encounter at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday. "I think it isn't finished. We know Benfica can score goals away and we need to be careful, but we'll be at home and we want to reach the semi-finals. Obviously our away goal is good and we didn't concede, but if Benfica score over there, everything will be equal."
With Chelsea also through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Ferreira is nonetheless confident the club can end an often trying season on a high. "We have wonderful players and we're still in two competitions that I think we can win and we have to believe," he said. "We have to think game by game, but of course we're in two competitions and anything can happen."
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