Branislav Ivanovic headed Chelsea to the Europa League trophy with an injury time winner to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over a distraught Benfica at the Amsterdam Arena.
Benfica had the better of the chances throughout an entertaining climax to the competition, but went behind through a Fernando Torres strike on the hour mark. The Portuguese side came back with a goal less than 10 minutes later as Oscar Cardozo slammed home a penalty following Cesar Azpilicueta’s handball. But, with the match looking set to require at least another 30 minutes to separate the sides, Ivanovic headed in a deep corner in the third minute of injury time.
Benfica created a series of openings, particularly at the beginning of both halves, with Chelsea’s only real efforts from open play coming courtesy of long-range Frank Lampard strikes, one of which struck the cross bar.
Yet Chelsea showed their mental strength to taste European success against the run of play for the second straight season, a year after holding aloft the European Cup. Led by interim manager Rafael Benitez, Chelsea become the first club to win the trophies back-to-back in that order and only the fourth club to win all three major European trophies, including the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
As for Benfica, whose players and fans were in tears at the final whistle, it is the second agonizing defeat in a matter of days, after conceding an injury-time winner to Porto on Saturday to relinquish their lead atop the Portuguese Liga.
Their recent pedigree, including a victory over Benfica in the Champions League quarterfinals last season, meant Chelsea went into the match as slight favorites. That was not in evidence in the opening stages, though as Jorge Jesus' side began far the better of the two teams.
Pleased as he will have been by the passing and movement that put Chelsea under real pressure, Jesus will have been left anxious and frustrated that his side were unable to capitalize by making a mark on the score sheet.
Cardozo had the first attempt inside just two minutes with a difficult header from 12 yards following Andre Almeida’s cross that he put over the crossbar. Nine minutes later Cardozo, again, and then Eduardo Salvio were each denied one after another by desperate Chelsea blocks in their own box.
Argentinian winger Salvio was again involved soon after as he was played in down the right of the box for an apparent clear shooting chance, but he elected to come back inside and eventually dropped the ball back for countryman Nicolas Gaitan who shot waywardly over.
Chelsea had not yet got their minds in the game and, as sloppy as they were in possession all over the pitch, they were also haphazard with their defending.
Young Spaniard Rodrigo, a somewhat surprise inclusion ahead of Lima, looked poised to turn the ball in after a cross ricocheted around the box, but he lost his footing and failed to make the most of yet another clear chance for the Lisbon giants.
It was not until more than 20 minutes had been played that Chelsea eventually began to gain some composure and get a foothold in the contest. They still struggled to create a lot offensively, with Juan Mata’s passing uncharacteristically off color as he twice failed to play Oscar through on goal.
But, while Gaitan should have done better with another Benfica opening when he fired over, it was the English side that were to come closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening half.
Lampard, who became Chelsea’s record goal-scorer at the weekend, almost added another to his tally with a trademark drive from 20 yards but, despite initially looking like being caught out, Artur just stuck out a hand to turn the swerving shot over the bar.
Undeterred, as they did in the first half, Benfica came out in fine form for the second 45 minutes and even had the ball into the net in the opening stages of the restart.
From Gaitain’s fine in-swinging cross, Cardozo, behind the defense, headed down and into the corner, but his celebrations were halted by the presence of a flag for the tightest of offside calls.
The chances were continuing to pile up for Benfica as Salvio headed straight into the hands of Cech. Within seconds they would pay for their profligacy.
A throw out to the half-way line by Cech was somehow allowed to travel all the way through to Torres, who held off the desperate attempts of the ailing Luisao and then showed plenty of composure to take the ball around Artur before finishing into the open net.
Yet, it was only to prove a temporary setback for Benfica as they continued to pressure and pulled level just eight minutes later.
Azpilicueta clearly used his outstretched arm to divert the ball away from Lima in the box and, to the roars of the Benfica fans, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers duly awarded a penalty. After an interminable, stuttered run up, Cardozo smashed the ball with conviction past Cech.
Chelsea were soon appealing vehemently for a penalty of their own as Torres went down under challenge from Luisao. But although there was contact, the Spaniard’s path to the ground was theatrical in the extreme.
The match continued to entertain and a fine instinctive, looping effort by Cardozo from 20 yards produced a good save from Cech to tip the ball over.
After Ramires was denied by a desperate lunging block by Benfica captain Luisao, Lampard came agonizingly close to putting Chelsea back in front with a blistering shot from 25 yards that bear Artur but smashed straight against the crossbar.
As the match went deep into injury time, most were preparing for extra time, but for the second straight year Chelsea produced a dramatic ending to a European final.
From Mata’s corner to the far post, Ivanovic leapt high into the air eight yards out and looped a header back across goal and into the corner past the unmoved Artur.
The drama was still not over and an outstretched leg form Cahill was the only thing that stopped Cardozo immediately striking back. It was not to be for the two-time European Cup winners as they followed Bayern Munich in learning the importance of taking your chances against Chelsea in a European final.