For 10 brief days, Chelsea holds both the Champions and Europa League trophies simultaneously, the first English club to do so.
Chelsea beat Benfica 2-1 in the Europa League final, largely thanks to a stoppage-time Branislav Ivanovic header from a corner. Packaged with Champions League qualification, the trophy means Roman Abramovic can write off Rafael Benitez's interim tenure as a success, despite rampant fan unrest and an FA Cup semifinal elimination.
"Obviously I’ll be proud because it was not easy,” Benitez told ITV. “We have been talking about this all the time."
Benitez is only the second coach after Udo Lattek to win UEFA competitions with three different. The Spaniard has won three European trophies in a decade.
He wasn't the only one to salvage a shred of redemption on Wednesday.
For those keeping track at home, Fernando Torres, who scored the winner, is currently a reigning World Cup champion, European champion, Champions League champion and Europa League champion.
On the hour mark, Petr Cech tossed the ball up the field, and Juan Mata flicked it on. Torres rode a tackle from Luisâo and rounded the goalkeeper. The goal was reminiscent of the old Torres: pacy, powerful, poised.
Ever since the 2010 World Cup, when Torres rushed back from an injury to help Spain become world champion, the striker hasn't been the same. Though technically rehabilitated, he clearly doesn't have the acceleration of previous years. For a player whose first choice was to drag the ball across and then sprint past defenders, this affected his confidence.
Though he still maintains several other attributes of an elite striker – positioning, link-up play, movement, finishing – the lack of penetration has stripped Torres of elite status.
That's not to indicate Torres can't contribute at this level. He's scored 22 goals in all competitions for Chelsea this season, including six in the last six Europa League games. But here's the damning statistic: the 29-year-old hasn't scored in the Premier League in 2013, a run of 20 fruitless league games. Some part of Torres' psyche is still injured.
Aside from the goal and a dive in the penalty box, Torres rarely influenced the match. The more impressive performances came from others. Cech and Gary Cahill – who made a trophy-saving block in the final minute of stoppage time – deserve credit for holding Benfica at bay when the Portuguese side appeared ready to overrun Chelsea with 58 percent of possession. Mata assisted both goals, recording his continent-leading eighth assist in Europe.
And of course Ivanovic hung in the air some four feet above his markers, redirected his shoulders and looped a header over Artur for the winning goal.
“This season, we did not have too many opportunities, but tonight it smiled upon us," Cech told beIN Sport.
Chelsea didn't have many opportunities in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich last year either, but penalties went the Blues' way. This year they spared us extra time at the last possible moment.
"The best team doesn't always win," former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic said.
Earlier, Oscar Cardozo had equalized from the spot when Cesar Azpilicueta inexplicably handled in the area. Cardozo thrashed his shot hard enough to injure himself, notching his eighth goal in 11 games against English club opposition.
No matter how hard the Paraguayan striker struck the ball, he couldn't break the curse on Benfica. The Lisbon-based club has now lost seven straight finals in Europe, stretching back 50 years.
Instead, Fernando Torres, whose pace and confidence have deserted him, continues to be the trophy charm.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Fernando Torres
- Rafael Benitez
- Branislav Ivanovic