Injury-time winner adds Europa League title to roll of honour
BENFICA 1 vs CHELSEA 2
VICTORIOUS Chelsea interim boss Rafael Benitez revealed insider secrets from former Benfica defender David Luiz were the key to securing their historic Europa League success in Amsterdam last night.
After Oscar Cardozo had cancelled out Fernando Torres’ opener for the Blues, defender Branislav Ivanovic banished his anguish of sitting out last season’s Champions League final triumph through suspension to head a 93rd-minute winner from Juan Mata’s corner.
And Benitez, who is set to leave Chelsea in the summer, said their dramatic late winning goal, which saw Benfica lose a seventh consecutive European final, was no fluke.
“The second goal was something we practiced,” said the Spaniard.
“We knew how they defended corners and David Luiz told us problems they have.
“It’s a special night for everyone involved when you win a European final. I’m really pleased for the players and everyone involved. We looked like we didn’t have the legs in the first half, but in the end we deserved it because we worked so hard. I’m very proud.”
Victory for Chelsea follows last season’s Champions League triumph and ensures they are the first English club to have lifted all three major European trophies, having won the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971 and 1998.
And match-winner Ivanovic feels the latest addition to the ever-expanding Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet was fully merited.
“This team deserved this, because we have had a very difficult season and a lot of games,” said the Serbia defender. “Benfica played very well but we scored from set pieces and worked very hard preparing that part of our game. We deserve that trophy.”
After a goalless first half, where Benfica enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but Chelsea had gone closest to scoring through Frank Lampard, the Blues made the breakthrough on 59 minutes.
Torres held off the challenge of defender Luisao then showed great composure to side-step goalkeeper Artur Moraes and slot in his ninth European goal of the season.
The lead lasted just eight minutes though, when defender Cesar Azpilicueta handled Cardozo’s chip in the box and the Paraguay forward sent goalkeeper Petr Cech the wrong way with the resultant penalty.
Lampard, who says “things are looking good” regarding a possible contract extension, was denied a late winner, and his 204th goal for Chelsea, by the crossbar.
But, as the final seemed destined for extra time, Ivanovic leapt at the far post to spark wild celebrations.
“This is an amazing time for all involved,” said Lampard, who lifted the trophy alongside injured club captain John Terry.
“We’re very fortunate at Chelsea, but you make your own luck and we have stuck together.”