By DAN KARELL
Two teams that began the season in the Champions League will be meeting in the Europa League final on May 15 in Amsterdam.
Following a one-goal deficit at the half, Chelsea hit three in a row including a David Luiz golazo to win easily over Swiss side FC Basel 5-2 on aggregate at Stamford Bridge while Benfica, who trailed 1-0 coming into the match, got two goals from forward Oscar Cardozo to defeat Fenerbahce at the Estadio da Luz, 3-1, on the night and 3-2, on aggregate in the Europa League semifinals.
The London club controlled much of the action on the night, but Basel midfielder Mohamed Salah scored on a terrific chip in the 45th minute over Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to level the score on aggregate, though Chelsea would have still advance on away goals.
Once the second half began however, it was all Chelsea, scoring three goals in ten minutes, and the first two in a three minute span to put the game past Basel. Forward Fernando Torres finished in the 50th minute on a rebound off a save by Basel goalkeeper Yann Sommer and forward Victor Moses scored in the 52nd minute after taking a rebound from a Torres shot and finishing easily.
But it was the previous leg’s hero David Luiz who stole the spotlight, scoring a left-footed curler on his first touch off a pass from teammate Frank Lampard. The strike perfectly curled inside the upper-left corner, giving Sommer no chance to make a save. The win put Chelsea into a European Cup final for the second year in a row, after winning last season’s Champions League final over this year’s finalist Bayern Munich.
Benfica’s near impeccable home run this season continued with the controlled 3-1 victory over Fenerbahce. Both the players and manager were optimistic and confident of their chances despite losing the first-leg in Turkey, and giving up another goal on the night.
Speedy midfielder Nicolas Gaitan put the hosts ahead in the ninth minute with a finish from a Lima cross, but former Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt hit one back from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute, putting Fenerbahce back ahead on aggregate.
The Paraguayan forward Cardozo then came to the rescue, scoring goals in the 35th and 66th minutes to swing the momentum Benfica’s way and put them within reach of the final. Some 24 minutes and change later, the Portuguese league leading club arrived at full time with the 3-2 aggregate victory and will be heading to Amsterdam for a chance to win their first European trophy since 1962. That year, Benfica defeated Real Madrid in the European Cup final, 5-3, in Amsterdam.
What did you make of today’s matches? Excited about the final? What did you think of Luiz’s finish?