Twice in less than a week, Benfica have lost to injury-time goals in crucial games.
That was until Branislav Ivanovic rose to send an outstanding header past Benfica ‘keeper Artur in the 93rd minute. In so doing he secured Chelsea their second consecutive European trophy, and sealed Rafael Benitez’s legacy as the unwanted inspirer of success.
It may not have carried the same weight as last season’s Champions League win. But as the players rocked precariously in the winner’s “enclosure”, and the fans cheered the raising of the trophy that completes the set, their apathy for a man branded “interim” was temporarily forgotten.
In all the joy and subsequent headlines, their opposition on the night were left to tend their wounds – both the ones inflicted on the evening and the ones yet to heal from their last match before the final.
That match was the one branded by Portugal’s media as the country’s “game of the century”, where both Benfica and Porto, undefeated thus far, faced each other in the penultimate match of the domestic campaign.
With Benfica two points clear in the league, a win would have secured the title, and a draw would have left things very much in their hands.
But as with last night, a late goal turned more than just the match.
An outstanding strike from Brazilian Kelvin gave Porto the upper-hand in the title race, ended Benfica’s undefeated streak, and prompted the Eagles’ coach Jorge Jesus to fall to his knees in apparent slow motion. It was an image of a man disbelieving and yet simultaneously understanding his fate, the moment hope is pulled from under someone.
Some goals win matches, others destroy dreams.
And so it was again last night in Amsterdam. Ivanovic struck just as the fat lady was clearing her throat.
Having lost at the death twice in five days, Benfica will be listening hard for her first note before they switch off in the future.
What does Europa League success mean for Chelsea? And can Benfica still save their season with league triumph on the final day?
image: © Crystian Cruz