For the next ten days, Chelsea will officially be the reigning holders of both the Champions League and the Europa League trophies after a stunning 2-1 win over the impressive Benfica. Fittingly, it was one of the heroes of last year’s Champions League campaign that scored the dramatic 93rd minute winner – Branislav Ivanovic.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Chelsea though – far from it. In the first half, Benfica were the noticeably stronger team. Chelsea struggled to get hold of the ball and the 63% – 37% possession stats in favour of Benfica told its own story. Both Cardozo and Gaitan went close in the early stages, while Rodrigo fluffed a particularly good chance from six yards after a clever set piece. In spite of this, Chelsea very nearly took the lead when Frank Lampard unleashed a thunderous strike from all of 25 yards. Brazilian keeper Artur looked to be going the wrong way, but he managed to get an exceptionally strong hand to the swerving shot to tip it just over the crossbar.
Early in the second half it looked like Benfica had finally netted the breakthrough, only for Cardozo’s neat header to be ruled correctly offside. Things continued much like they had in the first until the hour mark, when a lightening break from Chelsea saw Fernando Torres round Artur and give Chelsea the lead. The goal was a lesson in direct counter attacking football. A long throw from Cech after a good save – a little flick from Mata and great strength from Torres to muscle past both central defenders and finish. It was the Torres of old, and it was impressive.
It wasn’t long until Benfica were level. Lima tried to play in Cardozo and the ball struck Cesar Azpilicueta’s arm. Cardozo duly despatched the spot kick and the teams remained level up to injury time, despite Frank Lampard smashing a curling 25 yard strike off the crossbar on 88 minutes. Then, when the draw looked inevitable, the somewhat anonymous Ramires chased down a ball to nothing in the corner, and managed to win a corner. There was a certain buzz in the stadium as Mata went over to take what was probably the last chance of the game. The corner wasn’t great, but one man wanted it more than anyone else. Ivanovic tracked 10 yards and, leaping backwards, powered a stunning header back into the far corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any final, and scored by one of the genuine nice guys in football.
There was time for one more scare from the restart, but Gary Cahill saved the day with an incredible slide tackle and hooked clearance from 6 yards out that really justified his selection at the back. Champions of Europe for another season, and a job well done by Rafa Benitez.
Say what you want about us, but we know how to win silver.