by Richard Brook
A last minute header from Branislav Ivanovic and a deft finish from Fernando Torres, won the Europa League final for Chelsea, ensuring interim manager Rafa Benitez signed off his stint as Chelsea boss with a trophy. Benfica’s records were extended to not having won any of their last seven major European finals, and having only beaten one of their last eight encounters with English teams, although they dominated large portions of the 2013 final, especially in the first-half. Missed opportunities left the way clear for Chelsea, and with extra-time looming, Ivanovic leapt to head home and secure the victory.
Benfica began the match with the greater attacking potency and indeed the first chance fell to them as Oscar Cardozo rose highest as Andre Almeida swung a cross in from the right. Cardozo’s header, however, cleared the left hand angle of Petr Cech’s goal reasonably comfortably. Moments later Chelsea survived half-hearted penalty appeals for handball against Gary Cahill as the ball bounced worryingly around the area. Ashley Cole showed a cool head to chest the ball back to his keeper.
Chelsea worked to slow the game down and hold on to possession in an effort to wrestle the initiative away from their opponents, while Benfica pressed them relentlessly and tackled hard. Occasionally the challenges were a little too tough such as reckless early slide on Ramires by Nemanja Matic.
Benfica were soon on top again though and Cardozo saw an effort blocked by Branislav Ivanovic before Eduardo Salvio’s deflected effort bounced comfortably through to Cech. Benfica embarrassed the Chelsea defence once more as a free-kick within shooting distance, was instead played short into the right hand edge of the box, resulting in another scramble. Rodrigo was somewhat unfortunate to slip just as he was about to pull the trigger from eight yards.
Mid-way through the first half Chelsea showed their intent. First Ezequiel Garay fouled Fernando Torres out by the right hand corner flag. Juan Mata’s free-kick was half cleared by Artur’s punch, the ball eventually broke to David Luiz on the left hand side of the box, but Luiz became the latest of a succession of players to slip on the well-watered pitch.
At the other end, Cardozo hit the wall with a direct free-kick, to the right of centre, 30 yards out, after Ivanovic felled Enzo Perez on the half-hour. Moments later the ball broke to Gaitan on the edge of the box after another flowing passing move. His shaped attempt with the outside of his left foot went high and wide.
Yet, for all the pressure, it was to be Chelsea who came closest to opening the scoring. Frank Lampard nearly changed the course of the first half on 38 minutes. His sweetly struck shot from distance seemed to deceive Artur as he dived beyond it. The Benfica keeper, recovered well to contort his body to reach back the other way and tip the ball behind to ensure the sides went in level at the break.
The early exchanges, after half-time, followed the pattern of the first-half as Benfica passed their way deep into Chelsea territory, and Chelsea dropped deeper to repel them. The opening chance fell to Benfica, as Rodrigo headed the ball into the path of Gaitan who sliced the ball wide of the target. Moments later Cesar Azpilicueta made a crucial intervention as Rodrigo was about to strike with Chelsea stretched.
Benfica thought they had opened the scoring on 51 minutes. Cardozo met Gaitan’s delightful inswinging cross from the right with a perfect header, that Cech could do nothing about, but his effort was ruled out for offside. It was a moment that sparked a couple of decent attacks from Chelsea.
Another good ball from Gaitan, this time from the left flank, found Salvio unmarked at the far post. He headed the ball down just in front of Cech, but the keeper was down smartly to his right and held the ball well.
From that Chelsea opened the scoring, just shy of the hour mark. Cech hurled the ball to Mata on halfway he turned it around the corner to Torres who broke into the right hand side of the box. Torres’ feint sold the keeper, and the Spaniard routinely slotted the ball into the empty net.
Benfica looked briefly rattled but were gifted an equaliser eight minutes later. Cardozo attempted to flick the ball over the Chelsea defence for the on-rushing Lima. The ball struck Azpilicueta’s hand in the box, rather than the other way around, but his arm was high in the air, leaving the referee little choice but to award the penalty. Cardozo stepped up and smashed the ball down the middle to score, as Cech dived forlornly to his left.
Chelsea had a penalty appeal of their own turned down as Mata fed Torres, who turned neatly in the box. Luisao certainly had an arm on the striker, but in truth it would have been a soft penalty if awarded. Torres did himself no favours with the exaggerated nature of his fall.
Neither side was of a mind to wait for extra-time and both pressed for the win. Cardozo went close to winning the game, in normal time, as the ball dropped on the edge of the penalty area. His supremely taken half-volley was equalled by Cech’s stunning response to tip the ball over the right-hand angle of post and bar. Lampard was again unfortunate in front of goal with a snapshot from range. Artur was left grasping at thin air as the ball crashed against the crossbar.
Chelsea won the final in stoppage time. Ramires capped another good run with a cute bit of play to win a corner. Mata took the set piece deep, where Ivanovic rose highest to place a looping header beyond Artur at the back post, to win the Europa League for Chelsea.