May 15, 2013, 12:14 PM EDT
This afternoon in Amsterdam, Chelsea and Benfica go head-to-head in the UEFA Europa League final.
Both sides failed to make it past the Champions League group stages and now find themselves vying to lift Europe’s ‘other’ trophy.
At times the Europa League isn’t given the credit it deserves. With the new format allowing teams that finished third in their Champions League groups to enter at the knockout round, the competition has certainly lost some of its allure in recent years.
But these two sides and others have produced some superb displays to reach the final, with goals, drama and controversy lining the route to Amsterdam.
Just twelve months ago Chelsea were preparing for the Champions League Final in Munich, against Bayern, as they aimed to lift the famous trophy for the first-time in history. They did that. But the defense of their European crown they so gloriously won, didn’t go according to plan.
Some solace would come from being the only team to ever technically hold both the Champions League and Europa League titles at the same time. Frank Lampard, John Terry and co. would certainly love to lift yet another cup when the full-time whistle sounds at the Amsterdam Arena this afternoon.
But hold your horses. This won’t be a walkover. Benfica are not in the final through luck. The Lisbon based club have stormed through to the finale, brushing off Fenerbache, Newcastle, Bordeaux and Bayer Leverkusen. They’ve had a much tougher route to the final and despite a damaging injury-time defeat to Porto in the league last weekend, Benfica will be determined to win their first-ever Europa League trophy.
Also adding a little-bit of of spice to the mix, is the fact that two Benfica old boys — David Luiz and Ramires — will be lining up against them this afternoon.
This is an amazing stat. Benfica have played in eight European Cup finals in their history. They’ve taken Europe’s highest honor home twice, way back in 1961 and 1962 when the great Eusebio led the way. However, in the six European finals they’ve reached since, Benfica have failed to win another trophy. Could it be lucky number seven?
Chelsea hope it isn’t. Their big concern is an injury to captain John Terry, with the veteran defender likely to miss out after damaging his ankle in Saturday’s win against Aston Villa.
The Blues will have David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic to choose from at center back. So they should be fine. But the London will be missing influential attacker Eden Hazard through injury. (Live on Fox Soccer Channel, 2:30pm ET)
What they’re saying…
Rafael Benitez: “I want to win and if I can I will be really proud as we are working hard in very difficult circumstances. For me, it is always important to win trophies, to do well and to make sure we have done a good job. When I go home. I think we are doing a good job. People realise to be here at this stage of the competition means we have done a lot of things really well.”
Frank Lampard: “I have been lucky enough to play a few finals and they are very particular games. Small things that happen, focus and concentration, dictate the game.”
Petr Cech: “Any season when you reach a European final and you win it, the season must be considered a success. We would like to make history by winning the game.”
Jorge Jesus: “Winning the Europa League would be a very important moment in the club’s history, and for the players and staff. Getting to the final is a great achievement in itself but coming away victorious would be even greater. Benfica are always under pressure when they play and we know that in every competition we take part in, the aim is to get to the final and win.”
Luisão: “There’s been a real atmosphere in the squad all season and I’m proud to be part of it. We’ve grown and whenever anyone arrives at the club they soon realise what it means to wear the Benfica shirt. What I want is the best for Benfica. We deserve this, we’ve grown in recent years. As captain, [I say] we’re representing not just the players and their families but everyone who works at this club. We can make history for an important club like Benfica.”
Prediction: Chelsea just seemed destined to win this trophy. From late heroics against Sparta Prague and FC Basel, Benitez has utilized his squad masterfully and they seemed fired up to win the trophy. But Benfica won’t be a walk over. They want to bring home a European trophy for the first-time since 1962 and after domestic heartache at the weekend, Jorge Jesus’ side will be focused on the prize. I can see Chelsea’s experience shining through and a solid 2-1 win for the boys in blue. But it could go to extra-time and the dreaded penalty shootout in Amsterdam.
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