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There is something special about Stamford Bridge and the UEFA Champions League this season. If Chelsea FC's stirring round of 16 comeback against SSC Napoli roused passions in west London, then the 2-1 quarter-final second-leg triumph over SL Benfica matched it every step of the way for drama.
The Encarnados arrived in the English capital as firm second favourites after last week's first-leg loss in Lisbon, but the result stayed in doubt until Raul Meireles finally killed off his countrymen's challenge with a raking, driven winner in stoppage time.
As they had against Chelsea's Premier League rivals Manchester United FC at Old Trafford in November, Benfica turned on the style in England with a fearless performance. Once again, playmaker Pablo Aimar was at the heart of the visitors' attractive display, and he remained proud despite a painful exit from Europe's top club competition.
"I think we played our own game and we did it very well," the Argentinian international told UEFA.com. "
Some things didn't go for us and they had the individuals to see them through to the semi-finals of the Champions League."
Aimar played down the gulf in recent European experience between the two sides, with Chelsea qualifying here for a sixth UEFA Champions League semi-final in nine seasons, while Benfica were in the last eight for the first time since knocking out then holders Liverpool FC in 2006.
"I thought we played a good game," the 32-year-old continued. "We were coming off a very difficult defeat in the first match, but I think we deserved to win." Did Aimar think that 1-0 reverse on home soil was ultimately the fatal blow to Benfica's chances? "No," he said, "because we make the most of our chances away from home.
"We're talking about a team [Chelsea] that has lots of great individuals. You don't get a big window of opportunity against them. In matches like this it's very hard, even more so when you're playing with one [player] less," he concluded, referring to captain Maxi Pereira's first-half red card.
Aimar's team-mate Javi García perhaps endured the most contrasting emotions for Jorge Jesus's side, conceding the penalty from which Frank Lampard gave the hosts a first-half advantage before powering home a late headed equaliser to give his team hope.
"We go out with our heads held high," said the midfielder. "There was only one team wanting to win the game. We have to be proud of ourselves as sometimes you lose when you don't deserve to." Certainly Benfica made a lot of friends in this UEFA Champions League campaign, and Europe will be happy to see them back.
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