Chelsea entered the 2012-13 season with the opportunity to win more silverware than any club in Europe. After seven failed opportunities, in the 93rd minute of their eighth and final chance for a trophy, Branislav Ivanovic’s towering header gave Chelsea the 2-1 victory over Benfica they sought. This triumph in Amsterdam comes as Chelsea prepare for the departure of beleaguered interim manager Rafa Benitez.
Benfica were tenacious and creative throughout the match, enjoying the majority of possession and a slight advantage in shooting opportunities. Benfica looked to wilt in the closing moments, possibly as a result of a playing just four days after a devastating 2-1 stoppage time loss to Liga rival Porto. After Chelsea opened scoring thanks to Fernando Torres, Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo earned an equalizer from the penalty spot following Cesar Azpilicueta’s handball. Cardozo and Benfica will regret squandering several prime scoring opportunities, while Luisao will regret his error that allowed Torres to score the opening goal for Chelsea.
Chelsea rose to superiority as the match entered the final stages with Frank Lampard and Juan Mata leading the charge. Oft-maligned striker Fernando Torres cemented his place in Chelsea lore with another iconic goal to add to his career highlight reel. Torres and Mata now share the honor of currently holding Champions League, European Championship, Europa League, and World Cup titles. Injured Chelsea captain John Terry again appeared for the trophy ceremony in full kit following a quick wardrobe change after the final whistle.
Chelsea now begins their annual process of bringing in a new manager, with Jose Mourinho expected to make his return to Stamford Bridge. Benitez departs with his honor and reputation intact, overcoming the hostility of Chelsea’s own fans to steer the team to success. Chelsea is full of talented players, but injuries have taken their toll on a Chelsea squad that has played more matches than any team in Europe. High value transfers are almost certain for Chelsea who has earned a reputation for exorbitant spending.
Benfica represent the opposite side of the transfer market spectrum and front office management. Renowned for their ability to scout and import elite players from South America, Benfica have been on the receiving end of some of the most expensive transfers in recent memory. Chelsea’s David Luiz and Ramires both arrived from Benfica on transfers exceeding €20 million. Jorge Jesus has been a steady influence as manager since his arrival in 2009, his status assured despite a runner up finish in the Europa League and a likely second place Primeira Liga finish.
The juxtaposition in management and front office styles created an exhilarating final that neither set of fans will soon forget. Benfica will attempt to rally for a weekend fixture against Moreirense hoping to keep the pressure on league leaders Porto. Chelsea can look forward to the future proud of their accomplishments with only a weekend fixture against Everton separating them from a victory tour of the United States. With the Europa League and all major European Leagues decided, the world’s attention turns to Wembley Stadium where Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will face off in the UEFA Champions League final.