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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chelsea 2-1 Benfica

Heartbreak in the Amsterdam Arena

Chelsea lift the Europa League trophy after Branislav Ivanovic finds the back of the net with a splendid header in the closing moments of the 2013 final in Amsterdam.

The first half of the match was rather uninspired from both sides. Benfica were dominant and demonstrated excellent tactical organization while Rafa Banitez’s men from London struggled to prove that they were on the same page and able to function as a team. Torres was on his own up top for the Blues marked tightly by the disciplined Benfica defenders while the Portuguese side’s lethal and seasoned attacker Oscar Cardozo was an obvious danger to Chelsea’s defense. The back four for the men in blue and their goalkeeper Petr Cech had a busy first half and at the interval Benfica claimed the majority of the possession. Both sides had their chances but failed to convert free kicks or great opportunities in the opposition’s box.
In the second half, both teams came alive. Both teams immediately conceded free kicks and numerous attempts on goal were flagged offside. Cardozo thought he had been the first to find the back of the net in the 50th minute but a late flag and delayed call from the referees denied Benfica the goal. At the other end, Torres and Ramirez were starting to make snappy runs on the counter attack as fatigue and a push for a goal chipped away at Benfica’s organized defensive line. Torres found the breakthrough in the 60th minute and cooly finished a one-on-one with the goalkeeper Artur to give Chelsea the lead.
Two offensive substitutions for Benfica following Torres’ goal paid off. In the 66th minute, the young Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta handled the ball in his rush to beat the Benfica offense to a header. The penalty was awarded to Benfica and Cardozo predictably stepped up to take the kick. A series of shuffle steps were followed by a powerful penalty right up the middle of the net, sending Cech the wrong way and putting the Portuguese side level.
Chelsea pressed high and hard to attempt to take the lead again. Benfica Boss Jorge Jesus was forced to use his third and final substitution when Garay went down and was forced to come off. Despite the unwanted change in their lineup, Benfica continued to push up and apply pressure to the Chelsea defense. Cardozo nearly made it 2-1 in the 81st minute with a stunning strike but was denied by an equally stunning save from Cech. The pressure was on and the pace started to pick up. Lampard fancied his chances from distance at the other end in the 87th minute with a sweet strike, his shot beating Artur but not the crossbar.
With fouls and goalkeepers flying across the pitch and the penalty areas it looked like the two sides were deadlocked and bound for overtime and possibly penalties. In the final moments of the three minutes added on to the regular ninety, Chelsea were awarded a corner kick. Mata stepped up to take it and Chelsea pushed high for the last chance on goal and the chance to win it all in regular time. With a powerful header, Ivanovic sent the ball past a hapless Artur where it curled neatly into the back of the net and Chelsea had the 2-1 lead.
Amazingly, with just moments left to play, they nearly gave up the lead for a second time. In a final rally towards the Chelsea penalty area, a teasing ball from deep in the Benfica half was fumbled by Ivanovic in his own penalty area and pounced on by Cardozo. Only some brilliant (and slightly fortunate) defending from the experienced Gary Cahill kept the ball from the back of the net as Ivanovic and Cech lay in a heap on the pitch.
To Chelsea’s relief, that was the last play of the match and the final whistle blew. Chelsea, who were crowned the UEFA Champions League winners in dramatic fashion last season, were once again champions in an equally awesome manner. With lots of details concerning next season still up in the air at the London club, a euphoric victory and another trophy for the cabinet have ended the 2012/2013 campaign on a high note. 

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