Published On: Fri, May 17th, 2013

Chelsea win the Europa League

Benfica 1-2 Chelsea

Well bugger my biscuit tin – they know what they are, they know what they are, champions of Europe’s second competition, they know what they are.   Chelsea have done it the hard way, after being outclassed for much of the game, but they are the Europa League Champions.

It was an incredibly tense, tetchy affair – thanks in no small part to the watered Amsterdam ArenA pitch – with Benfica starting the brighter and creating several opportunities to score.  The players were losing their footing at the vital moments though and chances were being spurned.  Frank Lampard came up with Chelsea’s best strike in the first period when he unleashed a swerving howitzer which Brazilian keeper Artur, did well to turn over the bar, having nearly dived past the ball.  The first half ended goalless with Chelsea wondering just where their chance to strike would come from.

Step forward Fernando Torres.  The much maligned Spaniard cast off the monkey that was shackled to his back to shrug off Luisao, calmly round Artur and pass the ball firmly beyond the desperate lunge of Ezequial Garay just before the hour mark.  For all of Benfica’s slick passing and technical build-up, it was a long throw out from Petr Cech that released Torres, real route one stuff, and the Super Eagles will be really disappointed that they couldn’t keep Torres out.

It didn’t take long for Benfica to level things up, just 8 minutes to be precise, and the chance to equalise was handed to them on a platter.  Cesar Azpilicueta stuck out an ill-advised paw to block a headed flick on and Dutch ref Bjorn Kuipers was left with no option but to point to the spot.  Now, the age-old theory is that if you have a penalty in an über-important situation, you just smash it down the middle – the theory being that the keeper doesn’t have the balls to just stand there and watch it fly past him.  It worked like a charm for big Oscar, but he hit it so hard he developed cramp post-strike, but he managed to shake it off fairly sharpish.

Benfica refused to sit on their laurels, determined not to lose their seventh European final in a row, and Cardozo forced a superb stop from Cech when he unleashed one of his trademark left-footed torpedoes towards the top corner.  Frank Lampard – who today has agreed a new one year contract to stay at Chelsea next season – nearly grabbed the winner for himself with an excellent curling effort which refused at the last moment to dip under the bar, instead striking the woodwork with the ferocity of a harpoon to the thorax.

In the end it was left to the Serbian centre-half Ivanovic to head Chelsea towards the trophy.  Deep into injury time Ramires summoned up a lung-bursting run and forced a corner – from which Ivanovic battled at the back post to nod the ball back across goal, looping over the helpless Artur and landing pretty much exactly where Nico Gaitan had been planted seconds before – with the attacking midfielder inexplicably abandoning his back post position.

The utter, unbridled joy that came over the Chelsea players and supporters proved beyond all doubt that this wasn’t some diddy cup that nobody wanted, it was a second European trophy in successive seasons.  The fans seemed, almost, to unite in praise of Benitez and his preparation of the players.

Eusebio, the “Black Panther” and Benfica legend, looked visibly gutted as part of the trophy presentation squad comprising of three of the games greatest ever in Michel Platini, Johann Cruyff and Eusebio himself.  The Portuguese remained a class act throughout, as he dished out hugs for Benfica alumnus David Luiz and most of the victorious Chelsea squad.

John Terry donned his Chelsea kit for the trophy lift again with Frank Lampard despite not being able to play in the Final…again.   Lampard has since signed a 1-year-contract to stay at Stamford Bridge and it looks as though Fernando Torres is set to do the same, with the Spanish forward commenting that “I sign 5-and-a-half years, I want to stay at least this time”.  For some that will be music to their ears, for others it will be like hearing a cat getting its nuts caught in a threshing machine.

One thing’s for sure though – Rafa Benitez deserves the praise of every Chelsea supporter in the land.