History-seeking Blues target the semis


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - Page 18

Chelsea can take a step closer to becoming only the fourth side to win all three of UEFA’s major club competitions by cementing a place in the Europa League semi-finals when they travel to Rubin Kazan today.

Only Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich can count UEFA Champions League, Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup triumphs among their list of honors, but Chelsea are well-positioned to add their name to that elite group as they head to Russia with a 3-1 advantage from the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

“We have established a good lead. We know that the second leg will be difficult away from home, so it was important to get the victory and score three goals,” Brazilian midfielder Ramires said.

“Obviously, we want to qualify for the Champions League, but we don’t want to forgo the trophies that we are chasing either,” added the 26-year-old, sounding a slightly different tone to teammate John Obi Mikel, after the Nigerian revealed his indifference toward Europe’s second-tier competition.

“No disrespect to the Europa League ... but when you get that buzz and you hear the Champions League song, it’s different. It has been kind of frustrating to watch [Champions League matches] — and we have to then play on Thursday night,” Mikel said.

History overwhelmingly favors Rafael Benitez’s side, with the Blues having won all five previous encounters against Russian opposition and Rubin, despite an 18-game European unbeaten run in Kazan, are far less dominant in Moscow, the venue for the return leg, having lost three of their past four matches at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Chelsea’s London rivals Tottenham Hotspur face a significantly sterner challenge as they make the trip to Basel to face the Swiss league leaders with their tie evenly poised at 2-2 after Spurs recovered from a two-goal deficit last week.

Adding to Andre Villas-Boas’ problems is the absence of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and William Gallas, after the trio all sustained injuries in the first leg.

However, January arrival Lewis Holtby remains confident Tottenham can still secure their place in the last four.

“We are good away from home, we have got some good results this season, so we’re still positive and our confidence is high,” the Germany international said.

SL Benfica go to Newcastle United as the favorites to advance following a 3-1 victory in the Portuguese capital last time out.

Only twice has a side recovered from a two-goal, first-leg deficit in the competition’s knockout phase since it was rebranded four years ago, and while Newcastle are unbeaten in 13 European home fixtures, they have only won by more than one goal on two occasions in that time.

A meager return of 10 goals in 11 games since the start of this season’s group stage does not bode well for the Magpies, but midfielder Yohan Cabaye is optimistic about his side’s hopes.

“In front of our supporters, I’m sure we’ll have chances,” the France international said.

With the club having announced a sell-out for today’s match, Cabaye added: “It’ll be a whole different atmosphere and I know we can count on our fans.”

SS Lazio must overturn a 2-0 deficit in Rome if they are to make it through to the semis after Pierre Webo and Dirk Kuyt struck two late goals for Fenerbahce last week.

However, the Italians will be forced to play in an empty Stadio Olimpico after the club was sanctioned with a two-match stadium ban following crowd trouble in their round-of-32 tie against Borussia Moenchengladbach.