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May 15, 2013

Chelsea wins Europa on Ivanovic header

AMSTERDAM -- Branislav Ivanovic watched from the stands as Chelsea won its first Champions League last season. He eased the pain of missing that match while suspended by scoring an injury time winner Wednesday as his team beat Benfica 2-1 for the Europa League title.

"When you won one time, you want another one, this never stops. It is something in the sport that pushes you forward," the Serbian defender said after his looping header from Juan Mata's corner kick sealed the win in the 93rd minute.

Chelsea will now hold both European club trophies until May 25, when Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund play this season's Champion's League final in London.

"It is one of the dreams of my career to score in a European final," he added. "It is a dream for every player."

Chelsea's interim coach, Rafa Benitez, had plotted the goal on the training field with former Benfica player David Luiz.

"The second goal was something we practiced," the Spaniard said. "We knew how they defended corners and David Luiz told us problems they have" defending corners.

It was a sweet victory for Benitez, who has faced bitter criticism from the club's own fans since replacing Roberto Di Matteo in November.

Many Chelsea fans remained angry at Di Matteo's departure, after he led the club to a first Champions League title. Others haven't forgiven Benitez for allegedly disparaging comments he made toward Chelsea while Liverpool manager earlier in his career.

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

Just as they did in last year's penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, Chelsea's players found a way to win against an opponent that probably would have won if it had converted its chances.

A superb Fernando Torres solo effort gave Chelsea the lead on the hour mark. Oscar Cardozo tied itfrom the penalty spot eight minutes later, setting the stage for Ivanovic's last-gasp decider.

The win made Benitez only the second coach, after three-time champion Giovanni Trapattoni, to win the trophy with more than one club. Benitez first won the competition in 2004 with Valencia.

The victory also lifted Chelsea alongside Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich as only the fourth club to win all three European titles. The Blues won the Cup Winner's Cup in 1971 and 1998.

It was a bitterly frustrating end to the night for Benfica coach Jorge Jesus and his players.

"For most of the 93 minutes, Benfica was better than Chelsea," he said. "Benfica showed the world that they should be a worthy winner."

But Chelsea won without Belgium midfielder Eden Hazard and veteran central defender John Terry, who were both out injured. It was the second year running Terry had to sit out a European final -- he was suspended for last year's Champions League decider and could only look on as his team beat Bayern Munich on penalty kicks.

Terry got into his Chelsea uniform to join his teammates in their celebrations after the match.

The last-minute defeat in front of 46,163 fans at the Amsterdam Arena meant Benfica now has not lifted a European trophy since 1962. That's when a promising 20-year-old striker named Eusebio fired in two goals to power his team to a 5-3 victory over Real Madrid, also in Amsterdam. Since that victory, Benfica has lost all seven European finals it reached. Eusebio was on hand to watch the latest defeat.

It was a second crushing late loss for Benfica in just a matter of days. On Saturday, Porto's Kelvin scored in stoppage time for a 2-1 win that moved his team to the top of the Portuguese league with one game left.

"It was just like last week. We suffered a late goal," Jesus said. "The players felt they didn't deserve to lose, they felt like they were (knocked) down after the game."

The Portuguese team overpowered Chelsea early on, but could not convert its domination into goals. Cardozo and Eduardo Salvio both had shots blocked in the penalty area in an 11th-minute scramble, and Nicolas Gaitan fired over the bar a minute later.

Rodrigo was the next to come close for Benfica, but he slipped as he looked set to open the scoring in the 15th minute and scuffed his shot.

Artur then pulled off a spectacular save on Chelsea's newly minted all-time top scorer Frank Lampard in the 38th minute.

Lampard unleashed a powerful right-footed drive from outside the area and the swerving ball wrong-footed the goalkeeper. But he managed to stick out his left hand and deflect the ball over the bar.

Chelsea hung on again after the break as Benfica poured forward. And Torres, who has struggled to find the net consistently for Chelsea since his 2011 transfer from Liverpool, finally broke the deadlock in the 60th minute.

The Spaniard collected the ball just inside Benfica's half, used his strength to turn and wrestle past Ezequiel Garay and then beat captain Luisao before rounding Artur and calmly slotting in from a tight angle.

He sprinted to the corner and struck a Usain Bolt-style pose in front of the Chelsea fans.

Chelsea's lead lasted about eight minutes before Cesar Azpilicueta handled the ball just inside the area. Cardozo smashed in the penalty to bring Benfica level.

Both sides had chances in the closing stages, with Petr Cech tipping over the net a dipping left-footed volley from Cardozo. Lampard fired a long-range shot onto the crossbar in the 88th minute.

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