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Blues secure successive dramatic Euro triumph


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Chelsea became just the fourth team to complete the set of European trophies as they defeated SL Benfica in Amsterdam's Europa League showpiece.

There were shades of Munich as a late, late header from Branislav Ivanovic - a wonderful, looping effort that dropped just underneath the crossbar - ensured the Blues joined the hallowed company of Ajax, Bayern Munich and Juventus as one of the four club sides to complete a quartet of victories in UEFA competitions.

It is fitting company for the West London outfit. Winners, of course, of the Champions League last May against Bayern in their own stadium, the Blues this season saw themselves dumped out of the competition thanks to a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Juventus, before earning redemption in Ajax's own Amsterdam ArenA. Written in the stars, indeed.

It means Rafael Benitez' interim appointment has ended with great success. After guaranteeing Champions League qualification on Saturday - a day that also saw Frank Lampard become the club's all-time top goalscorer - this Amsterdam triumph completes an excellent week for the West Londoners.

Even though the Europa League may not be the most glamorous of the eight competitions the Blues contested this term, from the impassioned celebrations of Ivanovic's last gasp winner amongst the supporters and players alike, it is evident this one definitely matters.

As for the game itself - well, you may have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a re-run of last season's incredible against-all-odds success in Munich, with scenes of a red tide thrashing against a stubborn, immovable blue wall!

To their credit, a defeat is very, very harsh on Benfica, who dictated the play for long periods, albeit without truly creating clear-cut chances. Their best first-half opportunities fell to former Bolton Wanderers loanee Rodrigo, who fluffed his lines with the goal at his mercy.

Despite a truly phenomenal save from Artur - who, despite diving the wrong way was able to deflect over Frank Lampard's vicious swerving shot from distance - the Blues were clearly second-best and somewhat fortunate to reach the interval goalless.

Stern words were clearly exchanged at the break. Despite Benfica once more starting like the proverbial house on fire, the Blues rallied and opened the scoring on the hour mark through Fernando Torres.

The much-maligned Spaniard - whose 22-goal season has been belittled and demeaned left, right, and centre - produced a moment of the highest quality as he shrugged aside the hulking presence of Luisao before rounding the goalkeeper and stroking the ball home to send the Chelsea supporters into raptures. After claims suggesting Torres never truly brings the goods to the highest table, this was a clear indication that deep down somewhere, the old Fernando Torres still survives.

It was a moment that closely echoed the Nou Camp last season. Yet this was a better goal technically. The Spaniard showed strength, pace, and composure to fire home the opener, and suddenly the world looked a whole lot brighter from a Chelsea persuasion. Blood pressure back to normal, after a brief injection of ecstasy.

Benfica responded in kind through their top scorer, Oscar Cardozo, who rifled home from the penalty spot. The referee had blown after Cesar Azpilicueta handled on the edge of the area. It may have been a cruel decision, but whether deliberate or not, the Spaniard's arm was outstretched and the spot kick was correctly awarded. Cardozo's stuttering run-up failed to deceive Cech, but the forward slotted straight down the centre of the goal to restore parity.

At the other end, Torres was wrestled to the ground by Luisao. It was certainly one of those you have seen given before, pardon the cliché.

Cardozo had suddenly sprung into life, and only a very fine save from Petr Cech kept Chelsea on level terms. A bouncing ball on the edge of the area was expertly fired goalwards by the Benfica talisman, but the Czech custodian produced a save of the highest calibre to help the ball over the goal-frame.

If Cardozo's effort was a fine strike, then Frank Lampard's subsequent attempt on 87 minutes was other-worldly. The England star thrashed the ball from fully 25 yards, and only the width of the crossbar seemed to have spared Benfica from late heartache.

Yet up stepped Branislav Ivanovic, who, on 93 minutes, pealed away from his man before rising at the back post to send a wonderful looping header back across the face of the goal and into the top corner. It was a goal every bit as good as Didier Drogba's divine intervention in the last minute in Munich, and a goal that paid the dividends of examining and thus exploiting the weaknesses of Benfica's zonal marking system.

The trophy was Chelsea's.

Credit must go to Benitez. Inheriting an entirely thankless job, the Spaniard has done what was expected. Though top four football and a single trophy may not rank anywhere near the achievements of Roberto di Matteo last term, this small squad has been expertly managed by the Spaniard in navigating six different competitions under his tutelage. Two domestic cup semi-finals, a European cup triumph and a top four - possibly top three - league placement under the Spaniard certainly makes impressive reading.

The pragmatists will claim this has been a season of transition for this young Chelsea side. Crucially, as managers and playing personnel come and go, silverware has been delivered to give these young future stars a taste of hopefully more to come.

Despite the adversity, Benitez has helped produce a small reward for the endeavours of the club's longest-ever season. That alone deserves at least a quiet toast.

Cheers, Rafa.

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Well I'm not going to go over the top and say I'd go as far as "liking" him, but he's done a good job and deserves some credit.

Still a Scouse cunt though!

Deserves some credit yes

It seems like those inside Chelsea are not crediting him enough and outside Chelsea are praising him over the top!

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