Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard and interim manager Rafael Benitez have hailed the Blues' fortitude and team unity after their dramatic injury-time win over Benfica saw them become the first club to hold the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League titles simultaneously.
Chelsea’s late season momentum was again on display as Branislav Ivanovic headed home a last-gasp winner despite the Portuguese dominating possession for periods of the contest in Amsterdam on Wednesday. The Blues' resilience was all the more remarkable given it was the club’s 68th outing in an arduous campaign which included runs to the FA Cup and League Cup semi-finals, and an appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.
“We're a group, a team, and it was tight tonight after the long season we've had,” said Chelsea stalwart Lampard. "It's been an amazing time for all of us involved. Talk about ups and downs in the last two years. But this is a big up. You make your own luck, and we stick together in this group. The club deserve it."
It was a third continental crown for Benitez who has led the team to third in the league, with UEFA Champions League qualification virtually secured heading into the weekend’s final English Premier League round. Benitez, who took the reins in November after the dismissal of UEFA Champions League-winning boss Roberto Di Matteo, praised the team’s commitment to the cause despite a turbulent season.
“With a team in transition, with young players, it was really difficult,” said Benitez. “But we are still winning and you saw the commitment of the players on the pitch. When you have a manager who is going to leave at the end of the season and they still fight on the pitch, you have to be pleased."
Torres shines on big stage
Chelsea took the lead on the hour mark though Fernando Torres, before being pegged back eight minutes later by an Oscar Cardozo penalty. Torres’s impressively taken goal capped a fine goalscoring return this season in continental football, despite an indifferent campaign on the domestic stage.
The victory also means the Spaniard is, at least until next week’s continental decider between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, a reigning FIFA World Cup™, UEFA EURO, Champions League and Europa League winner.
"It was a very tough game, and Benfica were much better in the first half," said the former Liverpool striker. The first half was not good enough at all. We really wanted to win this Europa League, and maybe this was going to be our only chance."
Goal-hero Ivanovic also hailed Chelsea’s win as just reward for hard work over the course of the year. “I think we play all season very hard and at the end of the season, we deserve it,” he said. "It's a great feeling for me. This is one of the best moments in my career, to score the winning goal in a European final. It's the dream of any player. All the players, the staff and supporters deserve this trophy."
While Chelsea celebrated adding to their silverware collection, the late drama only added to Benfica’s heartbreak in an agonising week for the Lisbon giants.
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus claimed his team would have been "worthy winners" in a match that came just five days after another stoppage-time defeat, which saw O Glorioso lose their unbeaten domestic record as Porto leapfrogged to the top of the Portuguese standings in the penultimate round.
"In the 93rd minute, once again, we suffered a goal like last week," he said. "It's not usual for a team like Benfica. My players did not deserve to lose this game and, emotionally, it feels like they have been gunned down.
"I can't say we were unlucky. We had to do something and we didn't do it in that minute. For most of the 93 minutes we were better than Chelsea. Small details could have given us the victory, but we couldn't manage to do it."
Chelsea's success in Amsterdam means they join an illustrious band of clubs to have won all three of UEFA's major club competitions - Champions League, Europa League and Cup Winners' Cup - following in the footsteps of Ajax, Bayern Munich and Juventus.