Chelsea sealed their second European trophy in consecutive years as they claimed the Europa League with a 2-1 victory in the last minute in Amsterdam.
Rafa Bentitez adds to what is already a lucrative CV with his 3rd European triumph in his managerial career and achieves his target for the end of the season.
Chelsea took the lead in the early stages of the 2nd half when a long throw from the keeper found its way to Fernando Torres who shrugged off his marker, rounded the keeper and calmly finished into an empty net. Benfica looked to have pulled themselves back into the game when the referee pointed to the spot after Cesar Azpilicueta handled in the area. Oscar Cardozo blasted the resulting penalty straight down the middle.
The Blues managed to steal the victory at the death when Branislav Ivanovic popped up to loop his header giving helpless Artur no chance and send Chelsea fans into jubilation.
The first half was surprisingly low key considering the occasion but Benfica had the upper hand with the Portuguese side producing the more attempts at goal. A scramble in the Chelsea penalty area had the fans with their hearts in the mouths but the steely defence but their bodies on the line to clear away from goal. The only bright spark in a lacklusture first half. The Blues seemed nervous at the back throughout the first half and Azpilicueta was often caught cold on the right flank and Ramires made some brilliant recovery challenges on Salvio. Chelsea did test the keeper through Frank Lampard’s swerving shot from 25 yards with keeper Artur adjusting himself brilliantly to tip the ball over the bar.
The second half started off promisingly with some robust and cynical challenges being made on Benfica’s part. No substitutions were made during the interval. Salvio had a good chance just before the hour mark when he was unmarked at the back post and Cech was on hand to make a decent save to keep Chelsea in the game. From the resulting chance, Cech hurled the ball to Juan Mata and he managed to squirm the ball through for Torres to break away from the half line. The rejuvenated Spaniard managed to shrug off Luisao, who made last ditch attempts to bring him down, round the keeper and slot into an empty net to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.
Chelsea didn’t have the lead for long though and in the 68th minute, Azpilicueta’s wayward hand cannoned off Lima’s flicked header giving the referee no choice but to point to the penalty spot. Benfica’s talisman, Oscar Cardozo stepped up to blast his penalty down the middle but shortly afterwards went down with cramp. He wasn’t the only Benfica player to go down with the same injury with another two or three players needing assistance with cramp as the Portuguese outfit tired in the second half.
Benfica almost took the lead when Cardozo’s looping volley had to be tipped over by Cech who was on hand for everything Benfica threw at him on the night. Back came Chelsea and Lampard almost stole the show when his devastating 30 yard strike looked to be flying in the top corner only for the crossbar to deny him a wonderful goal to cap off a wonderful season.
Azpilicueta’s ball down the line found Ramires and he did brilliantly well to win a corner for Chelsea and the resulting set piece did the damage. Mata’s curving ball found Ivanovic at the back post and he hung in the air to loop his header magnificently over Artur to send the Chelsea fans into hysteria and the Europa League seemed imminently theirs for the taking.
Benfica had time to muster up one final chance when a long ball found Cardozo only to see Gary Cahill making a crucial challenge to deny an effort on goal and the resulting chance was cleared away. The final whistle was blown and Ivanovic, dropped to his knees in relief as his side had claimed another European title. The Serbian defender missed last years Champions League final through suspension and was cruelly told the news he would miss the final in a post match interview on Sky Sports. Imagine his relief at being the match winner this time around.
Benitez hailed his players at the end of the game and said: “I think it was a great performance in the second half. We had some problems in the first half against a very good team, but I am really pleased for the players and everyone involved.”
However, his departure at the end of the season is certain and prior to the game, there were hints that Lampard could be set to sign a one year extension to his contract which could indicate the return of a certain ‘Special One’.