Branislav Ivanović’s towering header in the last minute of added time decided an Amsterdam final that hung gloriously in the balance throughout.
Branislav Ivanović’s towering header in the last minute of added time earned Chelsea FC a dramatic victory over SL Benfica as they captured the 2013 UEFA Europa League title.
A taut, absorbing Amsterdam final looked destined for extra time when the Chelsea centre-back peeled away from his marker at the back post to direct an imperious header into the far corner following Juan Mata’s corner. Benfica dominated the first 60 minutes before a moment of power and poise from Fernando Torres swung the game Chelsea’s way. Óscar Cardozo soon equalised from the spot but Ivanović had the last word.
Benfica controlled the first hour, Jorge Jesus’s fluid, offensive-minded side hypnotising the Chelsea back line almost to submission. They attacked with verve, a flurry of balletic turns and intricate interplays; they defended too – although until Torres’s intervention they did not have much of that to do. The script was only missing the final act as all too often they overcomplicated things, attempting one pass too many or fluffing their lines.
Rodrigo, a surprise starter, typified the Lisbon outfit’s play, popping up all over the pitch, almost always unaccompanied. His vision was panoramic, his passing laser-accurate, but in front of goal his feet lost their assurance. Literally so on 15 minutes when, having completely missed the first cross to him five metres out following a clever free-kick, he slipped as he attempted to convert the second.
Moments before he had blazed over, and Cardozo, Eduardo Salvio and Nicolás Gaitán were also guilty of failing to deliver the knockout blow as Chelsea, backed grimly into a corner, held on. The English side, with Juan Mata and Oscar combining well, always had a sucker punch in them. Frank Lampard so nearly provided one with half-time approaching, cutting in from the left and hitting a swerving shot that initially wrong-footed Artur.
The goalkeeper did well to adjust and turn the ball over with a strong hand, yet order was soon restored as Benfica kicked off the second half as they began the first, only this time they really threatened the breakthrough. It needed brilliant awareness from César Azpilicueta to steal the ball away from the onrushing Rodrigo after Cardozo had turned Gary Cahill, and moments later Cardozo did find the net, but his header was ruled out for offside.
Then came Torres’s hammer blow, whose innocuous origins must have made the pain even harder to bear. It was route one stuff as Petr Čech’s throw was flicked on by Mata to Torres, who showed great strength to turn his marker and hold off Luisão before rounding Artur and clipping in. Jesus moved swiftly, bringing on fresh attacking legs and in no time his team were level, Cardozo powering in from the spot after Salvio’s header struck Azpilicueta’s hand.
The game opened up, the pendulum swinging this way and that. Cardozo had a stunning half-volley tipped over by Čech and with two minutes left Lampard rattled the crossbar with a sumptuous shot full of swerve and dip. Extra time loomed, but Ivanović had other ideas with a dramatic winner that means Chelsea, for the next ten days at least, become the first club to hold the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League trophies simultaneously.Follow @Football7x24