Once upon a time… the Amsterdam Arena was filled with anxious English and Portuguese fans who had made the trip for the special day. The city of Amsterdam was electrified as they prepared to host Chelsea vs Benfica for the 2013 Europa League final. Both teams had conquered the Champions League at one point or another but never the Europa League. Though not as brilliantly exciting and luxurious as Champions League, both teams had their eyes set on the trophy to avoid going trophy-less.
Chelsea had beaten all the odds and won the Champions League in 2012. On their way to the title, they beat none other than defending champions Barcelona and might Bayern at home. However, a horrific start to the 2012-2013 season saw their league title hopes fade away. A third place finish in the league was not entirely disappointing. Meanwhile, in European competitions, they were humiliated by Radamel Falcao in the European Super Cup, they finished third in their Champions League group sending them to the Europa League and were the first European team to lose the Club World Cup since 2006. Interim manager Rafa Benitez was hoping that the Europa League would momentarily secure his job just a little while longer.
Though Benfica’s season could not compare to Chelsea’s nightmare that year, it was still a crucial trophy. The club had failed to win a single European trophy since winning consecutive European Cups back in the early 1960’s. It had been six straight defeats in European cup finals for Benfica. Nonetheless, like all fans, Benfica fans hoped this was their year.
Unlike the previous year, Chelsea had almost all of their full starting XI available for the match and suited up. Newly-brought-in right back Cesar Azpilicueta got the nod pushing Branislav Ivanovic to center back alongside Gary Cahill. In the midfield, David Luiz and Frank Lampard acted as the team’s holding mids. Up top was underappreciated striker Fernando Torres. Meanwhile Benfica’s team consisted of mostly South American players. Four Argentines including Ezequiel Garay and Nicolas Gaitan and two Brazilians represented the Portuguese side.
After a goalless and somewhat dull first half, it was Chelsea who opened up the scoring. After several errors and miscommunications in Benfica’s defense, Fernando Torres had a gloried chance. He received the ball all alone just inside Benfica’s half and was off to the races. He shook off Luisão’s tackle mid stride and proceeded to go around the keeper before putting it away.
Very similar to a goal he had scored about a year ago.
Chelsea’s celebrations were halted prematurely when Benfica received a penalty in the 68th minute. Oscar Cardozo attempted to chip a through ball into Chelsea’s penalty box but it was deflected just inside the box. Just as the ball was going over Chelsea’s defense into danger, Azpilicueta jumped up and blocked it with his arm. An obvious penalty which gave the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Cardozo himself stepped up and blasted the penalty low and to Petr Cech’s right to even up the score. Not even Cardozo’s clear and evident harm prevented the Benfica players from celebrating despite the paraguayan striker suffering from a cramp.
As the game went on, Benitez began to worry about his players’ endurance in the remainder of the game. Benfica undoubtedly had a better bench who could change the game in any second. Half midfielder half magician Pablo Aimar was available on the bench but would not be used. Either way, Benfica pushed up front and even played the last couple of minutes with three defenders. Frank Lampard nearly gave Chelsea the lead with a very Lampard-like missile that just hit the crossbar.
As luck would have it, or should i say, as Chelsea’s luck would have it, the ending was not what everyone expected. In the 2nd of three minutes added on, Chelsea got a corner from the right side and everyone went up. The cross came in and managed to go all the way to the far post. In came a flying Ivanovic who jumped in between two defenders and met the ball perfectly. He did not header the ball hard by any means. He simply picked his spot and gently placed the ball right where he wanted. A beautiful lobbed header to the far post and Benfica’s Artur instantly knew he was defeated. Just as time was set to expire, Ivanovic had scored the biggest goal of his Chelsea career.
For the next 12 days following the game, Chelsea were the first and only team in history to be the defending Champions for both Champions and Europa League. It was more of that Chelsea magic that irritated the soccer World from 2012-2013. The trophy would be the Chelsea’s last international title while Benfica’s European title drought continued. The Chelsea vs Benfica 2013 Europa League final could’ve gone any other way had that header not gone in. Regardless, I’m glad it did go in so we can say we witnessed history.