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Reds ready to put 2014 behind them

Liverpool
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By ESPN Staff

Benitez proud of Europa success

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez was a proud man after capping his tumultuous tenure with Europa League success.

• Europa League final gallery Photo Gallery
• Brewin: Benitez calls tune
• Kundert: What now for Benfica?
• Delaney: Rafa style key to title
• Lampard hopeful over new deal

The Spaniard has been subjected to verbal abuse by the club's own fans since replacing Roberto Di Matteo early in November, due to unhappiness over both his predecessor's sacking and Benitez's comments about the Blues during his time as Liverpool manager.

But Branislav Ivanovic's injury-time winner, after Oscar Cardozo's penalty had cancelled out Fernando Torres' opener, ensures Benitez will leave his spell in charge at Stamford Bridge on a high.

"I'm proud,'' Benitez told ITV Sport. "It was not easy, we have been talking about this all the time so I am really pleased, really proud.

"It was a great performance in the second half. We had some problems in the first half against a very good team but I am pleased for the players and for everybody involved. They deserved it because they worked hard the whole season.''

Chelsea fans appeared to applaud Benitez when the Spaniard joined in celebrations and although he was oblivious to the gesture, he believes the win will be a true indicator of his time at the club.

"If you have to win for people to realise the job we are doing? Well, we won," Benitez added. " Hopefully now people will say it is not bad. It depends on the perception.

"But if you analyse everything, we won the Europa League with one striker for every single game. We managed players with yellow cards. Today we only had 18 players. If you put everything together you will realise how hard it is. I think we did well.

"I was just enjoying myself with the trophy so I didn't know what was going on. There was a lot of noise and everybody was happy so I was happy too."

Benitez reserved special praise for goalscorer Torres and midfielder Frank Lampard, who is reportedly set for a one-year extension to his current deal.

"We have had a lot of players improving during the season," he said. "Fernando was one of these players. A lot of people said I was appointed to bring the best from Fernando.

"He has improved a lot so I am really pleased. He has working hard with the fitness coaches and medical staff and today he was the difference again.

"Frank is a great professional. He has worked hard in every training session and now, at the end, I think we could see he has improved.

"Some people were surprised when I said that but he has scored a lot of goals in this period. Maybe it was because we were managing him quite well. When you play two games a week, with his age and commitment, sometimes you are not fresh. You can see he still has a lot of football. He is fit and next year he will do well again."

Torres praised Benfica's first-half display but was delighted his side were able to emerge victorious.

"It was a very tough game, maybe Benfica deserved a little more,'' he said. "They were much better in the first half but individual quality made the difference.

"It was the final, maybe the only chance we had to win the Europa League, and we won it.''

Fellow goalscorer Ivanovic, who missed last season's Champions League final due to suspension, said: "It's a great feeling to play in the final. Benfica played very well but in the end we scored from set-pieces.

"Now it's time to celebrate. These supporters and this team deserve to win a trophy this season.''

Information from the Press Association was used in this report

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