Chelsea cement place in Europe’s élite
by Derek Miller © Derek Miller (May 15th 2013)
Europa League Final 2013 – Amsterdam Arena
A Smaller Step
Chelsea took another step forward in a leap to join Europe’s élite in the Amsterdam Arena last night.
A deft finish from the Torres of old, in the second period,and a last gasp injury time header from man of the match Branislav Ivanović sealed victory over an energetic Benfica, who had earlier drawn level at 1-1 through an Oscar Cárdoza penalty midway through the second half.
While Benfica passed and dashed with precision, they lacked the final touch required to secure victory at the highest level. Chelsea rode their luck especially in the first half where Benfica’s tiki-taka, while very pleasing on the eye as they probed their way into the box, ultimately proved wasteful. “I’m really pleased for the players and everyone involved,” Benítez said. “The players have worked so hard, all season. I am proud – it was not easy. I’m really pleased, really proud.”
Profilgacy costs dear
Cárdoza saw a second half header that finally beat Petr Čech ruled out for offside. A fingertip Čech save late on at the expense of a corner set up the smash and grab raid in the last minute of injury time. Benfica’s goalkeeper Artur was helpless when a magnificent Frank Lampard effort left the Portuguese admiring spectators as the crossbar saved them.
A marked reluctance to shoot wasted many a promising opportunity for Benfica, although some wayward finishing suggests that top of Jorge Jesus’ wish-list in the summer should be an accomplished striker like dare I say Fernando Torres. The profligacy meant there was a price to pay later – a heavy one. Benfica have the unenviable record of having now lost their last seven European finals.
Back to Business
And while Chelsea march on to a second successive European trophy, Benfica could find themselves second best in their own league too, following a crushing late defeat to bitter rivals Porto last weekend. A defeat in the Portuguese cup could leave the Portuguese giants trophyless in a season that had a treble beckoning less than a week ago.
A win or draw at home to Everton this weekend, coupled with anything less than a win for Arsenal at Newcastle will seal third place and an automatic Champions League spot for Chelsea. Interim manager Rafa Benítez can walk tall after taking up the reigns under the circumstances that transpired. He also has an enhanced CV for future employers. And as Chelsea continue to court his successor he can look forward to the respect from top to bottom he will surely be afforded at his next club.
As Chelsea supporters celebrated with raucous songs and chants one chant failed to get any support. It was clear that the overwhelming majority of Chelsea supporters had turned from hate when he arrived following the sacking of Chelsea legend Roberto di Matteo to grudging respect. Rafa Benítez was no longer ‘the fat Spanish waiter!’