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  • Benfica 1-2 Chelsea, Europa League final

Ivanovic gives Chelsea memorable late victory

ESPN staff
May 15, 2013

A late, late header from Branislav Ivanovic saw Chelsea win the Europa League in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening.

The Serbian defender - who missed last year's Champions League success due to suspension - converted with a looping effort from a corner in the second minute of injury time, sealing a 2-1 victory for the Premier League side against Portuguese club Benfica - who duly lost their seventh consecutive major European final.

Fernando Torres had opened the scoring shortly after half-time with a composed effort at the Amsterdam ArenA, before Oscar Cardozo restored parity from the penalty spot minutes later. Both sides then had their chances to win the game, before Ivanovic popped up in timely fashion to deliver victory for Rafa Benitez's side.

"It's a great feeling," Ivanovic said afterwards. "This team deserved this, because we have had a very difficult season and a lot of games. In the end, today was a very hard game and Benfica played very well. We deserve that trophy."

Benitez added: "That was a great performance in the second half, against a very good team. I'm really pleased for the players and everyone involved."

It was the Portuguese side that started the brighter - indeed, they enjoyed far the better of the first half. Cardozo provided a distinct threat at the focal point of their attack, causing confusion in the Chelsea ranks with his hold-up play and movement.

While threatening, Jorge Jesus' side did not really test Petr Cech - with Nicolas Gaitan thrashing over one reasonable opening after a sublime team move.

Chelsea were second best for long stretches, but they nearly took the lead ten minutes before half-time through their captain, Frank Lampard. It was a typical long-range piledriver from the Englishman, but Benfica goalkeeper Artur, having initially been deceived by the swerve, managed to get enough of a hand on the ball to palm it over the crossbar.

The second half started in a similar fashion to the first, with Cardozo heading past Cech just five minutes after the restart - although he was adjudged (perhaps incorrectly) to have been offside.

The incident seemed to inspire something of a revival from Chelsea, who quickly showed flashes of attacking insight - Ramires only narrowly failing to stay onside as he was played clean through.

Then came the game's first goal and, after struggling to break down their opponents for so long, it came in the most direct of fashions. Petr Cech's long clearance was deflected over Torres' shoulder - allowing him to run through on goal after brushing off Luisao's physical challenge. Then, showing great composure, the Spaniard rounded Artur and slid home from a tight angle - sparking the final into life.

Fernando Torres broke the deadlock, then Branislav Ivanovic got the winner © AP
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For the next eight minutes, for the first time in the contest, Chelsea bossed matters - but it was Benfica who, against the run of play, soon found an equaliser. It was somewhat fortuitous - Cesar Azpilicueta being adjudged to have handballed a close-range flick he knew little about - but Cardozo did not decline the gift, rifling his penalty down the middle as Cech dived to his left.

Moments later Torres thought it should have been Chelsea's chance to try and score from 12 yards, after he turned Luisao once again and went down under his not-inconsiderable attentions. However, referee Bjorn Kuipers waved away the Spaniard's claims.

As the game went on, matters opened up slightly - with Torres failing to capitalise on a reasonable breakaway, before Cardozo forced a fine save from Cech after unleashing a dipping half-volley from 25 yards.

Both sides had chances for a winner in the dying stages - but it was Chelsea who went closest, club record scorer Frank Lampard nearly grabbing another for the club as his blistering 30-yard effort agonisingly cannoned away off the very middle of the crossbar.

Then came the decisive moment. With three minutes of added time due to play, two of those had passed when Chelsea won a corner from the bustling Ramires. The ensuing delivery from Juan Mata perfectly picked out Ivanovic, who rose to meet it brilliantly - with the whole stadium watching on as the ball duly ducked the crossbar with Artur left stranded.

Moments later the referee blew the final whistle, sparking celebrations from the delighted west London club.

"It's been an amazing time for all of us involved," Lampard noted. "Talk about ups and downs in the last two years! But this is a big up. We're a group, a team, and it was tight tonight after the long season we've had.

"No-one deserves this more than Ivanovic - he has been fantastic. You make your own luck, and we stick together in this group. The club deserve it."

Chelsea lifted another European trophy after a late win in Amsterdam © PA Photos
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