Chelsea and Benfica chase history in Europa showdown
Updated: 2013-05-15 05:32
By Agence France-Presse in Amsterdam (China Daily)
After a turbulent season, history beckons for Chelsea in Wednesday's Europa League final in Amsterdam, where it will meet a Benfica team reeling from a devastating domestic defeat by archrival Porto.
The premature end to Chelsea's Champions League defense had threatened to leave a cloud over its entire campaign.
Roberto Di Matteo's dismissal as manager created a negative atmosphere that only got worse when the unpopular Rafael Benitez was appointed as his interim successor, but now, salvation is in sight.
Saturday's 2-1 win at Aston Villa essentially secured the club's place in next season's Champions League, and victory over Benfica would turn an unhappy campaign into one etched in Chelsea folklore.
The all-German Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund on May 25 means Chelsea's fans will not be able to crow that they are the champions of Europe for much longer.
But if the team overcomes Benfica, it will become the first club to hold both European titles at the same time.
It is also bidding to become only the fourth team to have won the Champions League, the Europa League and the now-defunct Cup Winners' Cup - which it won in 1971 and 1998 - after Bayern, Juventus and Ajax.
Chelsea beat Benfica in the quarterfinals en route to last season's Champions League triumph, but Spanish midfielder Juan Mata remains wary of Jorge Jesus' side.
"We're playing against Benfica, a historic team in Europe that will be very tough to beat, as we saw last season in the Champions League," he wrote on his personal blog on Monday.
Amsterdam was the scene of Benfica's second European Cup triumph, in 1962, but it remains the last venue where it has tasted success in a European final.
There have been six painful defeats since then, although the most recent was 23 years ago, when it lost 1-0 to AC Milan in the final of the 1990 European Cup.
There was fresh heartache on Saturday, when a stoppage-time goal gave Porto a 2-1 win over its closest rival that took it to the brink of the Primeira Liga title.
Benfica coach Jesus fell to his knees in disbelief as a low shot by Porto substitute Kelvin crept in at Estadio do Dragao, and he admitted it would be a challenge to rouse his players.
"It's a difficult moment for us, because on Wednesday we've got a final and this loss has knocked us back," he said.
Nonetheless, with 51 years having now passed since Benfica's last continental title, there is no shortage of motivation.
"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," he told uefa.com.
"I was born in '54, but I know the history of the club because I have read about it and it is illustrated in photos at the training ground."
(China Daily 05/15/2013 page22)