Torres gives Chelsea the edge in Europa League quarter-finals
Benitez hails two-goal hero as Chelsea, Benfica and Fenerbahce take steps towards semi-finals
Chelsea, Benfica and Fenerbahce closed in on the Europa League semifinals with victories on Thursday while Basel claimed crucial away goals with a draw at Tottenham.
Fernando Torres scored twice in a game for the first time in four months as European champion Chelsea claimed a 3-1 win over Rubin Kazan at home in the first leg of their quarterfinal.
“Fernando needed to score a goal,” Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez said.
“He was passing the ball and touching the ball much better because of the confidence he had.”
Benfica came from behind to beat Newcastle 3-1 at home, while Fenerbahce scored two late goals to claim a 2-0 victory over 10-man Lazio to take into next Thursday’s second leg.
Tottenham fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Basel but midfielder Gareth Bale was carried off in stoppage time after hurting his right ankle. Though the injury looked serious, the club hopes it will only keep him out for two matches.
“There is lots of swelling and the pain is obviously very, very big but we hope to assess him tomorrow,” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said.
A long-term injury would be a serious setback to Tottenham’s hopes of progressing in Europe and also the club’s main objective: staying in the top four in the Premier League. That’s also the priority at Chelsea, which is currently fourth in its bid to secure a return to the more illustrious Champions League next season.
Having Torres scoring will help the mission and the Spain striker found the target for the first time since the last-16 victory over Steaua Bucharest almost a month ago when he broke his nose.
With Demba Ba cup-tied for Europe, Benitez has little choice but to deploy Torres, who has now reached 18 goals this season despite the perception that he is misfiring.
Wearing a black mask to protect his nose, Torres bundled in Chelsea’s opener in the 16th minute after bringing down David Luiz’s 30-yard cross-field pass and poking the ball home while under pressure on the ground.
There was a cleaner finish for Chelsea’s second in the 32nd.
Victor Moses saw a powerful header initially blocked by goalkeeper Sergey Ryzhikov, Torres had another go at scoring but he was also denied. The ball eventually found its way back to Moses, who powered home.
Chelsea was cruising until captain John Terry handled in the penalty area and Bebras Natcho dispatched the spotkick into the net to give Kazan a valuable away goal.
Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata was denied at the start of the second half by Ryzhikov’s one-handed save, but Torres found the net again in the 70th.
Torres cut in from the left but, rather than shooting, knocked the ball back to Frank Lampard, who released Mata on the left flank. Having worked his way into the penalty area, Torres was primed to meet Mata’s cross and head past Ryzhikov.
“We were much better,” Kazan coach Kurban Berdyev said through a translator. “Then I guess the third goal just ruined everything.”
The Europa League is a distraction from Newcastle’s attempts to avoid relegation from the Premier League, with the team currently three points above the drop zone.
The Magpies got off to a perfect start when Papiss Cisse scored after 12 minutes.
But Benfica, which is unbeaten in the Portuguese league this season, levelled on the half-hour through Rodrigo, who blasted the loose ball into the net after Oscar Cardozo’s fierce strike was parried by goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Cisse was denied by the woodwork early in the second half, but Newcastle defender Davide Santon messed up an attempted back pass and Lima seized the ball, rounded Krul and netted from a tight angle in the 65th.
Cardozo extended Benfica’s lead six minutes later from the penalty spot after a handball by Steven Taylor.
Tottenham could be following Newcastle out of the Europa League at Basel next week.
The Swiss champions went in front on the half-hour after Fabian Schar withstood two challenges and picked out Marco Streller, whose shot came off the post. Valentin Stocker then scored from the rebound.
Fabian Frei extended Basel’s lead five minutes later after being left unmarked to head home after seizing on Jan Vertonghen’s half-clearance from a corner.
Emmanuel Adebayor reduced the deficit in the 40th and, after Scott Parker missing what missed to be an open goal before the break, the equaliser came in the 58th. Gylfi Sigurdsson unleashed a shot high into the net after cutting in from the left.
“I’m perhaps annoyed that we have not won tonight,” Basel coach Murat Yakin said. “We got off to a great start and focused on what we had to do and set out to attack.”
Bale was injured when he went over on his right ankle in a challenge for the ball late on and stayed down, clearly in pain, before being carried from the pitch.
In Turkey, Fenerbahce’s breakthrough only came after Lazio had been reduced to 10 men. Ogenyi Onazi was shown a second yellow for scything down Cristian Baroni three minutes into the second half.
However, the goal didn’t come until the 79th when Pierre Webo netted from the spot after Stefan Radu handled.
Dirk Kuyt added another in stoppage time, following up after Caner Erkin’s free kick was parried by Federico Marchetti.