Europa League Final Preview

Europa LeagueBy Mark Rawlinson

After their disappointing departure from the Champions League at the tail end of 2012, Chelsea have the chance of securing a piece of silverware as they face Benfica in the Europa League final on Wednesday night.

The Blues finished Group E in third behind Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk meaning they would continue their European adventure in the continent’s second-string tournament.

The game is likely to be Rafa Benitez’s penultimate match as Chelsea’s manager and after falling well short in the Premier League plus semi-final defeats in both the FA and Capital One Cups, the Spaniard will want to bow out in glory, if he does indeed leave the club at the end of the campaign.

The former Liverpool boss’ appointment at Stamford Bridge was not one that went down well with large sections of the Chelsea fan base opposing to the interim appointment. But there’s nothing more than Rafa would like than to prove his critics wrong and adding another European trophy to his tally.

His first came back in 2004 when he lifted the UEFA Cup, the competition’s old guise, when he was manager at Valencia. His other major achievement came a year later in Liverpool’s incredible fight back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties.

Chelsea’s route to the final began back in February when a 92nd minute second-leg goal from Eden Hazard put Chelsea through as 2-1 winners over Sparta Prague. This was followed by a 3-2 aggregate win over Romanian side Steaua Bucharest in March.

Then came a nervy 5-4 win over Russian side Rubin Kazan. Chelsea led 3-1 after the first leg and despite a spirited fight from Kazan in the second leg, which saw them win 3-2, The Blues snuck through to the last four.

A 2-1 win was taken away from FC Basel and Chelsea dominated the second half of the second leg to progress to the final in Amsterdam as 5-2 aggregate winners.

Their Portuguese opponents had the same Champions League disappointment, dropping out of the competition after finishing third in the group.

However, they adapted just as well to the Europa league as Chelsea did and came through tough matches against Bayern Leverkusen, Bordeaux and Newcastle United before seeing off Fenerbache in the semi-finals a fortnight ago.

But Benfica come into the game from a damaging 2-1 defeat to FC Porto which ended their unbeaten domestic-league record and cost them top spot in the table ahead of the final round of fixtures.

However they will be buoyed by the news that Chelsea will be without the services of Eden Hazard after the midfielder injured his hamstring against Aston Villa on Saturday. John Terry is also a serious doubt after picking up an ankle injury in the same game and John Obi Mikel is unlikely to feature either.

Coral have Fernando Torres as favourite as first goal scorer at 13/2 whilst Juan Mata is at 8/1 to score first in the match.

William Hill are offering slightly better odds of Torres opening the scoring currently at 7/1 whilst they have Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo also at 7/1 to score first.

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