UEFA Europa League latest

All the latest from the team's competing in the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League

 
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Real Betis Balompié have rewarded coach Pepe Mel with a three-year contract extension after the 50-year-old guided the Seville-based side to a seventh-place finish in the Liga and with it, a UEFA Europa League qualifying round berth. Mel arrived at Los Verdiblancos in 2010 and enjoyed immediate promotion to the Spanish top flight before seeing his team finish the 2011/12 campaign in 13th position.

Speaking after signing his new deal – which runs until 2017 – the former Betis striker said, "When I mentioned [in the past] that I wanted to see this team playing in Europe during a press conference there was general laughter. My hope is to win a title with Betis and to be in the [UEFA] Champions League in the future. Hope costs nothing."

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Chelsea FC fans may have been celebrating their UEFA Europa League final victory long into the Amsterdam night but many of them are up early at Schiphol airport to catch one of several flights back to London today. The departure lounge is awash with Chelsea supporters wearing shirts, scarves and final memorabilia and, although the wet weather will be all too familiar to them, it is unlikely to dampen the spirits following a second European trophy in two years.

Blue certainly outnumbers red at the airport and it is a longer journey home for SL Benfica fans, who will have time dwell on where it went wrong, travelling back to Lisbon. The Eagles faithful will have to pick themselves up for the final Portuguese league game of the season which they must win, and hope FC Porto slip up, to finish the campaign on a high.

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'The final corner strikes again' is the headline of Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung. They are, of course, referring to last year's UEFA Champions League final, in which Chelsea FC beat FC Bayern München on penalties after Didier Drogba's late header from a corner took the game to extra time.

The article goes on to say: "Once again the late goal suffices. Chelsea FC win the Europa League thanks to a header from a corner in the 93rd minute. The English side found themselves on the back foot for much of the game, just as they did in the 2012 Champions League final. Benfica played decent football but their 51-year wait for more European glory goes on.

"The Munich players that followed the game on television will no doubt have been reminded of the painful final stages of last season's defeat. The similarities to last May's final were there to see early on. A team in blue called Chelsea focused on staying solid at the back, struggling to venture forward and put the opposition under pressure."

'Chelsea Rules' is the main headline in Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper, while in a separate article it writes 'Orange shine through Kuipers', in reference to the "spotless performance of Dutch referee in the Europa League final."

The daily adds: "Bjorn Kuipers gave the Europa League an Orange shine. It was a fitting conclusion to a day which did the Netherlands proud with a friendly, vibrant atmosphere in the city centre prior to kick-off. Former Netherlands forward Patrick Kluivert brought the trophy into the stadium ahead of the game and images of the city were broadcasted worldwide to a television audience of about 175 million viewers saw that Kuipers was close on every situation from the start."

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'Petr Čech is on the throne again,' reads the headline on Czech daily Sport, with the Chelsea FC goalkeeper once more the star of the show in his home country. Sport notes that the No1 is now only the second Czech player – after Vladimír Šmicer – to have won both the major European club trophies. It also notes that he is one of only eight Czechs to have won the UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League, along with Šmicer, Jiří Němec, Radoslav Látal, Patrik Berger, Radek Šírl, Tomáš Hübschmann and Tomáš Ujfaluši. Sport focuses on Čech’s long throw to Juan Mata, which set Chelsea on the way to their opening goal. "This shows again that he is world-class. He not only produces perfect saves, but also creates scoring opportunities."

The goalkeeper, meanwhile, commented on the relative weights of the two top prizes in European football, having had his hands on both in the past two seasons. "This one is significantly heavier," he smiled.  "The road to it was long and demanding, so it is a great satisfaction to have won it. It is a big trophy that Chelsea had never won. Since the Europa League began we have always been in the Champions League, so we had never even had a chance to win it. It is really good that we managed to get it right at the first attempt."
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Two Serbian daily sport newspapers Sportski žurnal and Sport led on the success of national team captain Branislav Ivanović, who scored the winning goal, with the latter stating that the defender is a "player for all roles and a high class footballer". Sportski žurnal went with headline ’Bane (Ivanović’s nickname) for eternity,' highlighting that, "Ivanović is the only one Serbian player with both European trophies – Champions League and Europa League."

Daily newspapers also had widespread coverage of Cheslea’s Amsterdam success with Politika writing the headline ’Ivanović won a trophy for Chelasea' before adding that the final was a "great match, where we saw two big teams and which finished with Ivanović's beautiful goal". Much of the coverage in Serbia understandably led on Ivanović but most papers also gave credit for Benfica, and another Serbia international Nemanja Matić, who were a match for Chelsea.

In Russia, Sport-Express got caught up in the drama of the UEFA Europa League final, noting that SL Benfica were the most dangerous team before the interval. "The Eagles were very active from the start and caused a real stir in Petr Čech's zone of responsibility," it wrote. "But the Blues stood up to the challenge somehow while their opponents could not come up with the finishing touch."

Watching Benfica idol Eusébio greeting the players as they came up to collect their medals at the end, Sport-Express wrote: "Eusebio kept his spirits up during the award ceremony after witnessing his successors losing another trophy. Rafael Benítez will leave Chelsea having exceeded his targets."

Meanwhile, Sovetski sport leads with a headline 'New silverware in the Chelsea museum', adding that in the first half Benfica "had done everything they wanted to in Čech's area except for putting a ball into the net".

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'90 Pain' is the headline in newspaper A Bola, referring SL Benfica's second added-time defeat in the less than a week following their last-gasp loss at FC Porto on Saturday. That was a defeat that could cost them Portuguese league title whereas last night's pain was more immediate with several Benfica players reduced to tears after the full-time whistle.

Record says that 'The Curse is in Injury Time,' referring the fact that the team lost two decisive games in the second minute of added time and is also a reference to Béla Guttmann curse. "A great performance in the Europa League final ended in tears," said their online version. "It couldn't be more cruel than that." There was also a reference to the warm reception the team received on their return to Portugal as 500 people greeted the players despite their defeat. O Jogo leads with a similar headline saying: 'Now the Curse of the 90'

Italian sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport leads with the headline, 'Benitez shouts, Chelsea wins the EuroLeague,' and summed up last night’s events by saying: "Chelsea won another European trophy following last year's Champions League, while Benfica lose again in injury time of a decisive match."

For Turin paper Tuttosport, last night in Amsterdam was the 'Farewell party for [Rafael] Benítez'. The daily adds: "At the last try [Branislav] Ivanović scored the winner and saw off Benfica in the Europa League final; [Fernando] Torres seemed revived."

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For its part, the newspaper El Pais also pinpoints the achievements of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres but it pays tribute to the crucial role played by fellow Spaniard Rafael Benítez. "Chelsea showed self-assurance of champions that are convinced they will win sooner or later,” it says. “Trusting the quality of their attackers, Mata and Torres shone above the others and were fortune at key moments. Also Rafa Benítez, who didn't make any substitutions, became in the second coach after Giovanni Trapattoni, to win the trophy with two different teams [having won the UEFA Cup with Valencia CF in 2004].

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Newspapers in Spain pay special attention the role that two Chelsea FC players, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, had in the 2-1 victory against SL Benfica. Sports daily AS highlights how both players have entered a select group who have won titles with Chelsea and with the Spanish national team: "The Europa League triumph achieved by Chelsea against Benfica improves the track record of four Spanish players in London. Fernando Torres and Juan Mata now have six titles in their trophy rooms but above that can lay claim to being champions of Europe and the world with their national team as well as holding the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League titles with their club. It is a feat that until now has only been managed by Andy Möller and Jürgen Kohler."

'Chelsea blessed, Benfica accursed,' is this morning's the big headline on front page of newspaper L'Équipe. Following yesterday's final the daily was keen to stress what it felt was the difference between the two sides. "An injury-time goal by Ivanović offered the Londoners their second continental title in a year after the Champions League," it reads.

"Meanwhile, the Lisbon players seem to have a monkey on their back as it was the seventh successive European final they have lost (since 1962) and an end to a season which is turning into a nightmare. The Blues had a great spirit, controlling a Portuguese side who appeared to have the upper hand on the game. They managed to score unexpectedly, making theirs the famous 'Fergie Time'."

Former Chelsea FC and England full-back Graeme Le Saux has heaped praise on interim manager Rafael Benítez following last night's triumph in Amsterdam. "Rafael Benitez managed the squad and the players look like they're together," he said. "That stems from the manager and he's galvanised that squad. There's a will about the team. He deserves credit."

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In Greece, GoalNews has sympathy with SL Benfica, bearing in mind the added-time defeat against FC Porto at the weekend that may have cost them the Portuguese title. "Cursed Benfica have the blues," it writes. "In just four days, they have suffered two painful defeats at injury time, to Porto and to Chelsea."

SportDay continues the theme, underlining the bad luck that has dogged the Eagles since they won their second European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1962 – they have now lost seven European finals in a row. "Béla Guttmann’s curse strikes again," it writes.

Montenegrin newspaper Vijesti leads with the headline: 'Ivanović brings Chelsea European glory, Benfica hoodoo continues.'  The body of the article sums up events from the Amsterdam ArenA in succinct fashion. "While the team from West London celebrates another piece of silverware, the Eagles from Lisbon lost a seventh consecutive European final, just days after they suffered a painful defeat against Porto in crucial game in Portuguese title race," reads the daily. "Rafael Benítez will leave Chelsea, but with his head held high and an indelible mark in the club's history."

In Romania, Gazeta Sporturilor is celebrating the Blues' achievement. 'Chelsea – one miracle after another,' screams its headline. 'Absolutely fantastic.' Pro Sport, meanwhile, flagged up the achievement of occasionally-derided striker Fernando Torres. 'People have laughed and made fun of him, but the Spaniard and team-mate Juan Mata are the first players to be a FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championship, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League holder at the same time.'

Sport.ro, meanwhile, chimes in with an early contender for headline of the day (for those who know their latin at least): 'Veni, Vidi, IVANOvici.'

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In England, the back page of this morning's Guardian newspaper leads with the headline 'Kings of Europa' and sums up the remarkable game in Amsterdam with the line: "Ivanović the terrific scores injury-time winner against Benfica as Benítez’s Chelsea claim trophy in dramatic final." The newspaper goes on to add how impressive SL Benfica were but that their failure to be clinical in the final third is what cost them.

"Benítez's team had been subjected to some intense pressure and will be grateful that Benfica’s finishing was not as refined as their build-up play," it reads. "Jorge Jesus's side pinned them back at time but guilty of being too elaborate in front of goal."
The Guardian concludes that, as in last season's UEFA Champions League final in Munich, Chelsea FC's dogged determination and knack of winning finals is what saw them over the line. "This was a night when Chelsea once again displayed the qualities of endurance and perseverance, not to mention the touch of good fortune, that helped them win the European Cup a year ago."

Rafael Benítez, Chelsea manager: "It's a special night for everyone involved. When you play a final and win, you are always happy.I'm really pleased for Fernando Torres. Some people think he was one of the reasons I was appointed and he's been working hard on his fitness and with the technical staff. I'm really happy he scored."

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Jorge Jesus, Benfica coach: "It was a final between two great teams. We played an excellent final but just lacked that bit of luck we deserved. Our fans deserved victory for the passion and loyalty they showed. For most of the 90 minutes Benfica were better."

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Nemanja Matić, Sl Benfica midfielder: "We played very well but didn't have the luck. We had more quality and more chances in the game, but the best team does not always win. Congratulations to Chelsea."

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Fernando Torres, Chelsea FC forward: "It was a hard road to Amsterdam and a very tough game. The first half performance wasn't good enough at all. We had to change our mentality and you could see the difference in the second half."

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Chelsea FC players celebrate their 2-1 UEFA Europa League final triumph against SL Benfica.

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Branislav Ivanović, Chelsea FC defender: "It's a great feeling. This team deserves this; we have had a difficult season with a lot of games. Now it's time to celebrate."

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UEFA.com's MatchCentre is now live, and will bring you all the action from the UEFA Europa League final between SL Benfica and Chelsea FC.

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TEAM NEWS

SL Benfica: Artur; Almeida, Luisão, Garay, Melgarejo; Pérez, Matić, Gaitán, Salvio; Rodrigo, Cardozo.

Chelsea FC: Ćech; Azpilicueta, Ivanović, Cahill, Cole; David Luiz, Lampard; Ramires, Mata, Oscar; Torres.

'The Race' winners, André and Nuno, submitted their video entry but were still relying on their team to do the goods. "We were thrilled when it was confirmed we had won the competition as we were depending on the semi-final result of Benfica against Fenerbahçe. On the one hand it was an anxious time, and on the other we were motivated by pride as we had our destiny depending on our beloved Benfica."

On the final itself, Nuno added: "I think Chelsea are favourites, but Benfica has something to say as I think they could win the trophy." View how André and Nuno saw off the competition from their Chelsea counterparts in an Amsterdam race to win a dream package to the final.

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And its Chelsea FC counterpart...

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We have exclusive behind-the-scenes access at the Amsterdam ArenA. Here's the SL Benfica dressing room.

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Over on the Dam, the large square that forms the historic centre of Amsterdam, a sizeable crowd is already forming around the street performers that are fixtures in these parts. There is a man wearing a rubber Freddy Kruger mask near the national monument while closer to neoclassical Royal Palace the Grim Reaper is doing a turn.

Yet the most popular entertainer by far is a man who looks a bit like Eric Idle stood on a stool wearing SL Benfica garb from head (a tall red hat in the shape of a trophy) to toe (club slippers). And that's it. But, for the gathering Benfica fans, that's more than enough.

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More evidence of the abrupt change in weather ... blue is certainly the colour in this shot.

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I arrived on Monday and Amsterdam has been shrouded in cloud ever since. Now, though, but a few hours before kick-off, the sun has broken through and, as you can see behind these two rather enthusiastic SL Benfica fans, we are set for a beautiful night for the climax of the UEFA Europa League season.

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Still at the Dam, where a Canadian flag catches the eye. Of course, you see the maple leaf everywhere but this one is special: it belongs to the Toronto chapter of the SL Benfica supporters' club. In all, 30 have travelled across the Atlantic just for this match; some of them were born in Portugal, others are staying connected to family ties they never knew themselves.

Among them is Mano, president of a fan club that traces its roots back to 15 June 1969 (it says so on their scarves), apparently making them Benfica's first overseas supporter network. Their Canadian flag is emblazoned with the motto 'Quem ama acredita' (who loves, believes). And Mano does. "If we come out firing then we can definitely do it," he says of Benfica's chances tonight.

Walking along Oudezijds Voorburgwal we come across a minibus carrying a Portuguese number plate and eight weary passengers, staggering around with the same expression as you see on revellers emerging from a cavernous club at daybreak; at once both startled and weary. A 2,250km journey will do that for you, apparently.

The drive from Lisbon took 24 hours in all, they said after calculating that they weren't inadvertently admitting they made a bit too much haste. It didn't seem right to ply them with questions so we asked only one: do you think you will win? "If we didn't think we were going to win we wouldn't be here," came the rapid reply. Indeed, tomorrow's journey home will feel even longer with defeat tonight.

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Entering a rather nice hotel lobby in the middle of Amsterdam, you can't help but notice two chaps who look a tad different to the other clientele. While dignitaries, club officials and famous faces of European football mingle and rush around ahead of tonight's big game, André Fonseca and Nuno Pascoal are enjoying a coffee and taking in the scene. Bedecked in SL Benfica garb, André and Nuno are still pinching themselves after winning 'The Race', an action-packed contest to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2013 UEFA Europa League final. 

Hand-picked from hundreds of entries, André was magnanimous to pass on the credit to his friend. "Our participation was Nuno's idea as the great source of inspiration was the great institution that Benfica is. I compare our job with Benfica's path to the final. We had to overcome difficult hurdles but with determination, will and ambition we arrived here."

See how they saw off the competition from their Chelsea conterparts to win 'The Race'.


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@one_nil_up: Which team will be crowned the new champions?

@UEFAcomSamA: I think the winner will be Chelsea by the odd goal in three, but I can see it going to extra time before that, and then a dramatic late winner for Fernando Torres. Whatever happens, I expect an entertaining game with both sides not scared to take the attack to the opposition.

@UEFAcomHugoP: It is a 50-50 game. If I had to chose a winner I would go for Benfica because they have an extra motivation in that the club has not won a UEFA competition for more than 50 years. 1-0 to Benfica.

@gurmss: What are your predictions and thoughts on how Torres will perform tonight?

@UEFAcomSamA: He's done pretty well in the big games over the last few years – scoring in both last season's UEFA Champions League semi-final at FC Barcelona and in the UEFA EURO 2012 final for Spain – and has a knack on scoring when it really matters: in finals. It really wouldn't surprise me if he did it again.

@UEFAcomHugoP: He will be dangerous, as always, but Benfica's defenders will be up to the task.

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@jcotrim21: What lineup do you expect from Benítez? Benfica have theirs almost set.

@UEFAcomSamA: You never really know with Rafael Benítez, but I can't see too many surprises in the starting XI. He's had some injuries to contend with as the season has got to the business end, but a clever rotation policy has helped the Blues achieve plenty in a hectic period of games.

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@Mimmo_25: After the loss to Porto in the Liga, in what condition do Benfica approach the game?

@UEFAcomHugoP: That defeat only lasted 24 hours. Like we say in Portugal, the team changed the 'chip' afterwards and they are focused 100% on the final.

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@takashishoji: What type of formation should @chelseafc adopt? #UELfinal

@UEFAcomSamA: The policy of one up front with a battery of creative midfielders behind has served Chelsea well and I can't see them shifting from that formula for such a big game.

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@_CFCfansBD_: Which @SL_Benfica player should @chelseafc keep an eye on? #UELfinal

@UEFAcomHugoP: Apart from the striker Óscar Cardozo, I would say Nicolás Gaitán, who is a talented offensive player.

@DolfiThomas: #UELfinal How much of a blow is Eden Hazard's absence to the Blues' chances tonight? Can the Londoners afford another in John Terry?

@UEFAcomSamA: As I mentioned earlier, I think the loss of Hazard a big blow for Chelsea. He has come up with some crucial moments of inspiration this season – not least the added-time strike against AC Sparta Praha in the round of 32 that helped ensure Chelsea's UEFA Europa League campaign didn't come unstuck before it had really started. In Oscar and Juan Mata, though, Chelsea are well served in that department. The loss of Terry could be more important – as a psychological blow – but remember they did OK without him in the final in Munich last May.

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@Waz_4: Who will be the key defender for Benfica? #UELfinal

@UEFAcomHugoP: The captain Luisão is an experienced centre-back: he is a reference point for the team and for the club. Tactically he is very important and is good at motivating his colleagues.

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@MohamedJacayl: Would putting David Luiz into midfield make Chelsea stronger?

@UEFAcomSamA: I do, yes, and for a very specific reason. David Luiz is a Benfica old boy and they know all about his talents … as a centre-back. He has shown he can really contribute at both ends of the pitch as a deep-lying central midfielder. On the other hand, the likely absence of John Terry may leave Rafael Benítez no choice at the heart of his defence.

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@HeyJaysOOn: Do you think it will head to a penalty shoot-out? :) #UELFinal

@UEFAcomSamA: I doubt it. At the risk of contradicting myself on an earlier answer, both teams have goals in them and – importantly – have attacking mindsets. Petr Čech (pictured) was asked the same question in the press conference yesterday and said he'd prefer to win inside normal time this year … even if he was the goalkeeping hero in last season's UEFA Champions League final.

@UEFAcomHugoP: It is always a possibility. Both goalkeepers could make some good stops because they are top-class.

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@MaroucheSam: Both teams aren't the best at defending, so do you see this as a high-scoring game or just a 1-0?

@UEFAcomSamA: It's funny as I've heard this from a few people, but both teams have had to defend very well at times during their run to the final, maybe when their forwards weren't firing. Finals are normally tight, so I wouldn't expect a goal fest, but I'm sure experienced observers were saying the same ahead of Liverpool FC v Deportivo Alavés in 2001.

@UEFAcomHugoP: I would be surprised if I see a high-scoring game. It is a final and I think both teams will be cautious in not conceding a goal.

@eddiebellamy: Who has the X-factor from each side? Who will be a game-changer?

@UEFAcomSamA:
Eden Hazard would have been a big player for Chelsea if you're talking about 'X-factor', but with the Belgian out injured, the stage is set for Frank Lampard to step up to the plate again. He broke the club's goalscoring record at the weekend and is bang in form. From a Benfica point of view it's hard to look past Óscar Cardozo (pictured), but Nicolás Gaitán is certainly one to watch out for.

@UEFAcomHugoP: Lampard's experience could be decisive. Benfica's Nemanja Matić is a pendulum in midfield and could stop much of Chelsea's offensive play.

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@EldoCR: Who is the most dangerous player to watch in the #UELfinal?

@UEFAcomSamA: From a Chelsea perspective, I think the most dangerous player in Benfica's lineup is Nemanja Matić (pictured). Not from a goalscoring point of view, but because the Serbian is a master at breaking up attacks and will be key to taming the Blues' threat from midfield, which I think is their most lively avenue to scoring.

@UEFAcomHugoP: Óscar Cardozo. He is a lethal striker in front of goal.

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@NugieGABE: Which team is the favourite to win the Europa League? #UELFinal

@UEFAcomSamA:
Fans of both sides think Chelsea have a slight edge coming into this final. They got the better of Benfica in last season's UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, and although both teams have changed since then, it is Chelsea who carry better form into the game. Having said that, it maybe one of the oldest clichés in football, but a final is completely unpredictable and there really is not that much between the sides in the first place.

@UEFAcomHugoP: Like the Chelsea coach said in the press conference, it is a 50-50 match. There are no favourites in a final.

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The atmosphere is building in Amsterdam as more and more fans arrive in the city ahead of tonight's final. They have come by land, sea and air, from London, Lisbon and further afield. A few unsuspecting tourists seem surprised by the influx, but of course locals have known about it for some time. Many stand in their doorways as supporters meander past by the city's canals in streams of blue and red.

Many bars and restaurants have pledged allegiance to one or the other, with flags erected and scarves draped over doorways. In some places it is more obvious than others, the rabble-rousing blue flags of Teasers somewhat less subtle than the small backstreet cafe where we just stopped for lunch. It contained many trinkets and posters but none of them even vaguely football related. A refuge from the final-themed city, I wondered? Then I recognised the music: Leonard Cohen and Chelsea Hotel #2.

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Portuguese newspaper O Jogo has drawn optimism from the fact that SL Benfica's last European glory happened in Amsterdam, 51 years ago. The paper also points out that 30 planes full of Benfica supporters will depart Portugal today as the Eagles fans head to Amsterdam.

In all Portuguese media there appears to be a common theme. When Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann left Benfica after winning two straight European crowns in 1960/61 and 1961/62 he said: "Without me Benfica will not win another European trophy". Bela Guttman's curse is an old subject in Portugal and after six defeats in finals everyone wants to see the curse come to an end.

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Former SL Benfica striker Nuno Gomes, who is currently playing in England for Blackburn Rovers FC, is confident Benfica can win with their menacing forwards holding the key a victory over Chelsea FC. "I would bet on Cardozo and Lima up front," the 37-year-old said to Record newspaper. "Jorge Jesus has returned Benfica's lost magic". The daily also drew comparisons between Maxi Pereira, the influential right-back who will miss the final due to suspension, and former midfielder Diamantino Miranda, who missed the 1988 European Cup with a knee injury.

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'Take your place in history' is the headline in Portuguese newspaper A Bola today with a full page spread dedicated to the UEFA Europa League final between SL Benfica and Chelsea FC.  As part of its build-up to the match, the newspaper analyses the two teams and predicts that coach Jorge Jesus will play Óscar Cardozo as a lone striker, Lima making way for Nicolás Gaitán, who will be Benfica’s key playmaker.

In England, this morning's Telegraph has highlighted five key areas that tonight's final could be won or lost. SL Benfica's holding midfielder Nemanja Matić up against Chelsea FC's Juan Mata is the first contest singled out. "Matić is a very important player for Benfica," reads the daily. "As their holding midfielder, the big Serbian does a good job in protecting his back four and breaking up the play. He can also pick a pass in more advanced areas. That said, he may experience problems keeping tabs on Juan Mata, such an expert at finding space between the lines. The little Spaniard's movement, his nose for the main chance could tie Matic in knots if Chelsea start dominating possession."

It comes as no great surprise that in-form Óscar Cardozo is also underlined as a key player for the Portuguese side, as is their deployment of the long throw. The daily newspaper goes on to emphasise the importance of Fernando Torres's tussle with Luisão. "Fernando Torres has thrived in the Europa League, looking a lot sharper and happier than he has in the Premier League," it says. "Given the stage to himself with Demba Ba ineligible [having played in the competition for Newcastle United FC], the Spaniard has weighed in with some important goals. It will be interesting, then, to see if he can continue this form tonight against a centre-half of enormous experience."

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The weather here in Amsterdam is more London than Lisbon this morning, with the mercury struggling to get into double figures beneath overcast skies. Strong winds are making life hard for those among the city's 600,000 bicycles forced to brave the elements but at least it is not raining. In fact, there are rumours that as the final kicks off tonight we will get a rare sighting of the big yellow thing that apparently resides above the blanket of cloud.

This morning's Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf focuses on Chelsea FC's native assistant coach Boudezijn Zenden and how he is leading the 'Masterclass at Chelsea'. The former Netherlands midfielder, who won 54 caps for the Oranje, is confident going into tonight's final and had his say on the prospect of a unique achievement. "We can become the first club to hold the Europa League and Champions League at the same time," he said. "In 10 days we have to give away the cup with the big ears [the UEFA Champions League trophy] to the next winner at Wembley. When we beat Benfica, we will have both cups until the London final."

Zenden, who can count PSV Eindhoven, FC Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool FC and Olympique de Marseille among his former employers, also spoke highly of ex-SL Benfica defender David Luiz. The 26-year-old has been a revelation at Stamford Bridge this season and could have an important leadership role if John Terry fails to recover from injury in time. "He [David Luiz] is a player who is crawling towards the top and still can become a much better player," said Zenden "Terry now is still the leader, but Luiz is really on his way. He can play centre-back and in midfield. The question is if the club can keep him, that is how good his development is."

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That's all from the blog today. On Wednesday, our intrepid team of reporters will endeavour to bring you all the latest from Amsterdam ahead of an eagerly-awaited UEFA Europa League final. Join our vibrant social community on Facebook and Twitter, and follow @EuropaMike for a unique take on tomorrow's showpiece.

It seems Chelsea FC manager Rafael Benítez had every reason to remain guarded when questioned about the extent of John Terry's injury. Having emerged for training at the Amsterdam ArenA, the 32-year-old defender swiftly resided to the bench after a brief jog with the rest of his team-mates.

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Óscar Cardozo (pictured below training on the Amsterdam ArenA pitch) has been on fire since SL Benfica switched to the UEFA Europa League, and his six goals in the knockout rounds mean he is only two off the top scorer, S.S. Lazio's Libor Kozák.

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Rafael Benítez has finished up his press conference and will now take Chelsea FC training. His parting comments were:



Obviously you want to win. You are professional. You analyse everything and you hope to continue to do even better.


Rafael Benítez:
Every game you're playing against very good teams with offensive mentalities [in the UEFA Europa League].


Rafael Benítez:
The main thing is that you have to have confidence and belief you can do well, but it depends on the other team as well.


Rafael Benítez: 
I don't see a favourite. Jorge Jesus is a good manager, they've had a good season and are good in Europe. I think it will be an interesting final for everyone and they have experience but we do to.

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Rafael Benítez:
To be at this stage shows we have done well. 


Rafael Benítez
has opened up with an injury update: Hazard will not be available; John [Terry], we'll have to see how he feels tomorrow. It's not the best injury, but we'll have a look today and after decide.

Petr Čech and Frank Lampard have departed to stage left, to get ready for training. Rafael Benítez now sits alone ...

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Petr Čech:
It doesn't matter how you win a European final so long as you win it.

Frank Lampard: All of us here, those who have been here a long time and those who haven't, want to win this for Chelsea.


Petr Čech:
This Benfica team is even stronger than the side we beat last season. They have very good, talented players, have speed going forward and have a good balance to the team.


Petr Čech:
We had a few targets this season and haven't achieved them all but this is a massive game for us, to make history for the club.

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Frank Lampard, asked if his weekend double had earned him a start, smiles wryly and looks to his right where Rafael Benítez is unmoved. To the manager's right, Petr Čech is sniggering.


Frank Lampard:
The success of our season will be decided tomorrow but I don't think we've overachieved.


Frank Lampard:
The closer you get to the final the more you want to be here. As soon as we landed here today it was clear this was a European final and we want to win it.

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Frank Lampard:
Last year is an inspiration. Looking back we were probably underdogs back then. We've been in a few finals and you come to learn that it's the little things that make the difference. Benfica are a good team, as Bayern were.

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Rafael Benítez (Chelsea FC)
Manager Rafael Benítez of Chelsea FC during a press conference

The Chelsea FC press conference is imminent, where we will see what Frank Lampard, Petr Čech and Rafael Benítez have to say ahead of tomorrow's final.

Frank Lampard will be in the Chelsea FC press conference, which starts in just 45 minutes. Expect some questions about the club's goalscoring record, which he broke on Saturday at Aston Villa FC.

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Jorge Jesus has wrapped up his last question and the press conference is now over. Chelsea FC will follow suit in just over an hour's time. Stay with UEFA.com for more news direct from Amsterdam.

Jorge Jesus: "Benfica created a name for themselves in the 1960s, and have recovered the lost prestige over the last few years – we've recovered our international prestige and that's what the president of the club and the club itself are working towards: an improved reputation of the club in Europe."

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Jorge Jesus: "In my opinion, the two best teams in the Europa League reached the final."

Jorge Jesus: "You can see this press conference is full and that's because Benfica are an important club so it wasn't very difficult for them to change their mindset [following the weekend loss to FC Porto] and get up for this game."

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Jorge Jesus: "If we compare the performances of Chelsea and Benfica in Europe over the last few seasons it is normal to think that Chelsea are favourites, but a final is a final and we at Benfica have every possibility of becoming the winners tomorrow."

The players have left for their training session on the Amsterdam ArenA pitch, leaving SL Benfica coach Jorge Jesus to answer questions. He opens by saying: "It's the most important game of my career so far – it's the UEFA Europa League final, that's why we're all here. It's my first final of a major European cup. I'm very proud and happy to be here."

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Luisão: What I want is the best for Benfica. Benfica deserve this, we've grown in recent years. As captain, we're representing not just the players and their families as well as everyone who works at this club.


Luisão: We can make history for an important club like Benfica; all other information is forgotten as soon as you go out onto the pitch.


Luisão:
Eusébio is here and his presence means a lot. He is a reference point at Benfica and to share moments with him is important to the team.

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Luisão: There's been a real atmosphere in the squad all season and I'm proud to be part of it. We've grown and whenever anyone arrives at the club they soon realised what it means to wear a Benfica shirt.


Luisão: We've prepared well and since Saturday's game [a defeat by FC Porto] we have been 100% focused on this. We're looking forward, not back.


Ola John: Chelsea are different [to 12 months ago]. They are younger, and now there's no clear target man, it's a different style. They're in the final and they're not here for nothing.


Ola John:The final is extra special but I don't think that means I'll be extra nervous. Excited but not nervous - I've played big games before.

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Ola John: Lampard is obviously a good player. He's been there a long time and can change a game. But the Chelsea team as a whole are good - we have to be wary of all of them.

Well, if you can gauge anything by timing then SL Benfica are up for this: Luisão, Ola John and Jorge Jesus are here for the press conference early.

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Petr Čech and Frank Lampard will be at the Chelsea FC press conference which follows at 19.00CET. They will, of course, be joined by manager Rafael Benítez and we can expect news from him on the injury situation with Eden Hazard and John Terry.

Over in Kramatweg, a suburb just east of Amsterdam city centre, UEFA President Michel Platini has just officially opened a new mini-pitch, funded by UEFA's grassroots programme to mark the final and next Wednesday's Grassroots Day. We'll shortly be off to Olympia Plein for the conclusion of a grassroots tournament that began a few days ago with 3,000 schoolchildren, but only after 'Team Platini' attempt to get one over on 'Team Kluivert' at Kramatweg.

While Chelsea FC can become just the fourth team to have won all three of UEFA's primary club competitions with victory tomorrow, SL Benfica are looking to end an unenviable run of six straight defeats in European finals. For this and many more facts besides, read our statistical preview of the 2013 UEFA Europa League final.

 

The streetlights on the ramps leading up to the stadium are powered by solar or wind. Safe to say it is the latter that will be most useful today, the posts shaking as the windmill whirs with gusto. It is making life hard for the SL Benfica support staff unloading their van as they get everything ready for the team's arrival in a couple of hours.

The Eagles will train at the Amsterdam ArenA from 18.00CET, but before then Jorge Jesus will speak to the media from 17.15. And they need not worry about finding their way back to the hotel near the centre of the city later - these lights will be burning bright.

DID YOU KNOW? Chelsea FC's record in eight games against Portuguese clubs (two against Benfica, six versus FC Porto) in European competition is W6 D1 L1. They are currently on a five-match winning streak against Liga sides, though all those victories have been by single-goal margins.

©uefa.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.
DID YOU KNOW? Chelsea FC's record in eight games against Portuguese clubs (two against Benfica, six versus FC Porto) in European competition is W6 D1 L1. They are currently on a five-match winning streak against Liga sides, though all those victories have been by single-goal margins.

Just a few rows behind the two teams' dugouts is the scene for the climax of tomorrow night's final, when either SL Benfica or Chelsea FC will get their hands on the UEFA Europa League trophy for the first time. The roped area designates where the players will walk along and pick up their medals before UEFA President Michel Platini hands over the heaviest piece of silverware in the UEFA stable to the victorious captain.

©uefa.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.

 



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DID YOU KNOW? Dutchman Björn Kuipers will officiate on Wednesday. The last time SL Benfica were in a major European final, in 1990, the referee was also from the host country (Helmut Kohl, Austria) - the Portuguese side lost to AC Milan in Vienna. An omen?


The Amsterdam ArenA is a hub of activity, with workers shuttling down the corridors getting the stadium ready. On the pitch, beneath the closed roof (it's freezing out there) they are rehearsing the pre-match events, with some fortunate schoolchildren and their no less enthusiastic teachers standing in for players and mascots. They do so to the background of a gentle hum and smell of fresh grass as two lawnmowers get the pitch in pristine condition.

©uefa.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.

 

SL Benfica's rich history is not lost on Nicolás Gaitán ...

 

DID YOU KNOW? Óscar Cardozo has scored in six of Benfica's last ten matches against English teams.

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Still no news on the fitness of John Terry and Eden Hazard as Chelsea FC keep their cards close to their chest. The pair underwent tests on Monday after picking up knocks in Saturday's 2-1 victory over Aston Villa FC. Terry was carried from the field on a stretcher after a knock to the ankle while Hazard, only just back in action after a calf knock, finished the game nursing a hamstring complaint. We may find out more at 19.00CET when Rafael Benítez speaks to the media in the eve-of-final press conference at the Amsterdam ArenA.

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The UEFA Europa League final is sold out. The only authorised channel to buy tickets for the final was through entering the ballot on UEFA.com between 3 December 2012 and 18 January 2013 and through both finalists. UEFA is constantly monitoring the internet and reserves its right to take legal action in case of unauthorised sellers offering tickets. UEFA also wishes to advise fans not to be lured into such deals, as in most cases, such ticket offerings may simply be a fraud and tickets may not even exist.

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From Schiphol airport to the stadium itself, Amsterdam is bedecked in the colours of the UEFA Europa League as the city counts down to Wednesday's final. My taxi driver may have got slightly lost on the way to the hotel, but he made up for his navigation skills by regaling me in what a great "football town" the Netherlands' capital is.

He was also proud to proclaim Amsterdam as "one of the oldest cities in western Europe" and later on, after I rather misjudged the metro journey to the ground, it struck me that perhaps using the traditional canals to get around would be best after travails on the more modern transport options available. You would think it's on the agenda of the SL Benfica and Chelsea FC fans who will arrive here in the next two days …

Juan Mata has been one of Chelsea FC's best players this term and after helping the west London club to all but secure their place in next season's UEFA Champions League, the Spain international is fully focused on Wednesday's final. "We’re playing against Benfica, a historic team in Europe that will be very tough to beat, as we saw last season in the Champions League," said the 25-year-old. "It’s true that some of the players have changed, but the core is the same.

"They are a very competitive side with players such as [Óscar] Cardozo, Luisão, Rodrigo, [Maxi] Pereira, [Nicolás] Gaitán, and my favourite, Pablo Aimar, to name a few. Besides, David Luiz told me that their manager likes to work and analyse every detail before a match, so it will be even harder. I hope it’s a good game and we can celebrate with our fans a new trophy for the club. It would be amazing to win two European titles in two consecutive years."

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Chelsea FC midfielder Frank Lampard may have broken the club's goalscoring record against Aston Villa FC on Saturday but he was still thinking ahead to the UEFA Europa League final and what it will mean if John Terry were to miss the occasion with an ankle injury sustained in the 2-1 win. "I'm gutted for him because I know what it meant to him to miss last season's [UEFA Champions League] final, even though he turned up and supported the team brilliantly," he said. "Whatever we do it's as a club and as long as John's here he's part of it.

"It won't soften the blow for him, he'll be frustrated not to be involved if the ankle is as bad as it looks, but we win things together. That's what we did last year and hopefully it will be the same this year. Knowing John, he will be there and he'll be with the lads. Of course we'll miss his influence, in the modern day you can't think of many captains that have surpassed what he's done in terms of what he's won. He's captained his country and he's a real leader. Leaders have to affect players around them, they have to pick players up in hard moments and John's done all of that and more, so we'll miss that certainly if he's not involved."

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There is one last chance to change your UEFA Europa League Fantasy Football team before the end of the season. Who are the best players to pick from Chelsea FC and SL Benfica? Our tipster has his say ...

 

It has been revealed that Björn Kuipers will referee Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final.

 

SL Benfica's preparations for the final were far from ideal as they suffered a last-gasp defeat at FC Porto that leaves their opponents in pole position for the Portuguese Liga title going into next weekend's final round.

Saturday evening started well enough as Lima put the hosts ahead but the lead lasted just six minutes as Maxi Pereira deflected Silvestre Varela's cross and wrong-footed Artur. It set the stage for a tense second half that hinged on the final minute when substitute Kelvin struck on the counterattack.

"A defeat is a defeat but this hurt us deeply," admitted Jorge Jesus. "It happened in the last play when a draw suited us but football is unpredictable. It's difficult ahead of Wednesday's final as the defeat will scar emotionally; it's a heavy blow. We have to recover but when you lose in the last minute it leaves a mark."

Having started the day with a two-point lead, Benfica will meet strugglers FC Moreirense on the final day needing to win and hope that Porto slip up at a FC Paços de Ferreira side already destined to finish third.

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Chelsea FC are sweating on the fitness of John Terry and Eden Hazard ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final after the pair picked up injuries in Saturday's last-gasp 2-1 win against Aston Villa FC.

The Blues came from behind to all but guarantee UEFA Champions League football for next season as Frank Lampard overtook Bobby Tambling's club scoring record in the process. Second-half injuries took some of the gloss off the triumph, with Terry taken off on a stretcher following a knock to the ankle. Hazard ended the match nursing a sore hamstring. Both will undergo further tests on Sunday.

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More than half a century on from SL Benfica's last European trophy, Lima, a member of the SC Braga side defeated in the UEFA Europa League final two years ago, is determined to end the club's long wait.

 

Chelsea FC are one win away from joining an illustrious list of clubs to have won all three of UEFA's major club competitions. The Blues, who were crowned European champions for the first time last season, will add the UEFA Europa League to their roll of honour should they beat SL Benfica. The first continental silverware in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet was the 1971 European Cup Winners' Cup, a prize they also collected in 1998.

 

 

Despite his disappointment after his side missed out on a place in the UEFA Europa League final, FC Basel 1893 coach Murat Yakin had nothing but praise for his charges. "In the second half, we were caught cold, but I have to credit my players," he said, following the 5-2 aggregate loss to Chelsea FC. "We played very well in the first half. We knew we had to score and the task of keeping a clean sheet here was always going to be a tough one. It all just slipped away from us too fast in the second period.

 

"The team has grown, qualifying round by round – in this tie, Chelsea were cleverer than we were and we paid for our inexperience. It's those little details that make the difference at this level. Chelsea are clever, experienced and know how to win things. I like to think that my team has provided the perfect preparation for them in the final. Now we have to focus on the championship. When we went 3-1 down, it was obvious we'd lost so I took off [Marco] Streller and [Valentin] Stocker with a view to resting them for the league."

 

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Chelsea FC manager Rafael Benítez has shared his thoughts on his team's progress to the UEFA Europa League final on 15 May and the Spaniard is understandably a happy man. "I'm really pleased to get there," he said, after his team beat FC Basel 1893 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. "We've been working so hard and the players deserve it. It will be tough because we know Benfica are a very dangerous team, but we have the quality. It's important to show character and keep winning, continuing the momentum. We have Tottenham and Manchester United coming up [in the league] but we're doing well; hopefully, we can finish the season even better. We take one game at a time."

 

His side have no time to revel in their success, however. "When you're playing two games a week, you have a game, the next day you recover and then it's the day before the next match and you have to get ready again. There's no time for celebrations."

 

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That's it for today's blog. Thank you for joining us. Follow @EuropaMike on Twitter for more insight and behind-the-scenes photos from around the grounds tonight, and head over to the UEFA Europa League MatchCentre from 20.00CET, as we bring you play-by-play coverage.

FC Basel 1893 will admit that the odds are against them after losing the first leg 2-1 before succumbing to last weekend's surprise 3-0 home defeat by FC Luzern but Swiss hopes may lie in Chelsea's fatigue factor.

Basel's season actually began a month before their opponent's - 13 July as opposed to 12 August - but Chelsea's workload has been far more strenuous. Tonight will be their 64th game across eight competitions and they could yet face another five before the season has finished. The Times newspaper has produced figures showing the extent of their labours, revealing that Petr Čech has played 5,115 minutes compared to 4,830 last season, Branislav Ivanović 4,529 (3,629), Juan Mata 4,463 (3,965) and David Luiz 4,428 (3,965).  Over the last two seasons Mata (below) has played 123 games for club and country.

 

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Down in Stockwell, south-west London, some 6km from Stamford Bridge, the talk is all about tonight's big game. Can the home side justify their favourites' tag? Will the sheer volume of games this year finally take their toll? And just how good are Fenerbahçe SK anyway? Stockwell, of course, also goes by the name of 'Little Portugal' and is the beating heart of London's large Portuguese community.
 
My dentist, Dr Costa, is certainly confident as he looks forward to watching the game with a Turkish friend in one a Portuguese restaurant - or restaurant as it's known in these parts. As he peers into my open mouth he embarks on a mesmerising dental-inspired metaphor about the challenge that awaits the Eagles, with an impressive knowledge of the English language if not it's use ("their tiredness is like heavy plaque; it needs scraping away"). He concludes (genuinely): "It'll be all white on the night." My mouth hurts.

Chelsea FC began the season aiming for no less than seven trophies but one by one their targets slipped away, leaving them with just one piece of silverware in their sights: the UEFA Europa League. At Stamford Bridge tonight they aim to build on their 2-1 first-leg lead against FC Basel 1893 and reach the 15 May final to make up for their list of disappointments, which began in August with a 3-2 defeat by Manchester City FC in the FA Community Shield and a 4-1 loss to Club Atlético de Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.

Before the turn of the year they bowed out of the UEFA Champions League (finishing third in their group) and FIFA Club World Cup (beaten in the final by SC Corinthians Paulista), while their Premier League dream died amid a seven-game winless run. In January the London side departed from the League Cup (losing 2-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals to Swansea City AFC), and their FA Cup run also ended at the last-four stage when Manchester City again got the better of them.

After those two semi-final defeats manager Rafael Benítez will be anxious his team make no mistake against their Swiss visitors, while he will also have in mind his 2010 disappointment when his Liverpool FC side lost to Atlético at this stage on away goals.

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UEFA.com has spoken to Ottmar Hitzfeld about FC Basel 1893's success in reaching the UEFA Europa League semi-finals, where they trail Chelsea FC 2-1 going into the second leg. "FC Basel have achieved something great for Swiss football," said the Switzerland coach. "FC Basel are No1 in Swiss football; the club and their president Bernard Heusler are doing a fantastic job. And Murat Yakin, the coach, has composed a great team and is tactically very clever. The team is very consistent. They have not conceded many goals and up front they are constantly dangerous. FC Basel have created a sensation and maybe they can write history by reaching the final."

What does Basel's achievement say about the quality of Swiss football and the new generation of Swiss coaches? "When a team gets some success at international level, like FC Basel, they represent Swiss football and Swiss football is even more on the big stage. There is more attention and you can observe new coaches that are working in Switzerland. And then maybe there will be an extra spot in the European competitions, in the Europa League. This is why it is very important that FC Basel are leading Swiss football."

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This morning's Portuguese newspaper A Bola leads with the headline 'Final strike' as SL Benfica prepare to overturn a 1-0 UEFA Europa League semi-final first-leg deficit against Fenerbahçe SK. The daily adds, "the Eagles are on the verge of reaching one European final 23 years after the last one." In-form forward Óscar Cardozo also features in an article stating that tonight's encounter at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica "is the most important game of my career."

Another major Portuguese national newspaper, Record, states: "Flight 2-0 going to Amsterdam. Stadium full to support Benfica." Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is also quoted: "I believe we will be in the final."

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Volkan Demirel, Fenerbahçe SK goalkeeper: 


We have great respect for Benfica. They are a good side, who play well as a team and we are talking about one of the best European teams. We are on top now and I am almost certain that we’ll be in the final. I am very proud and I hope now to give a present to all Fenerbahçe fans.

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Murat Yakin, FC Basel 1893 coach:


First of all I don’t care much for statistics. What I want is for us to play very good football, fresh football, and to start well. We have shown against Tottenham what we are capable of. We will be brave, we’ll play with confidence, and who knows – maybe we can achieve a small miracle and qualify for the final. We know what we have to do to qualify; we know the goals we have to score. We have one aim – to give our best. Nothing I say here will affect that.

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Jorge Jesus, Benfica coach:


Our goal is to turn this tie around, and although 1-0 is a tricky result, we know and have the confidence that we can go through. We have European experience and we know what it is like to be at this stage. We are calm and won’t change a thing. We are very confident and hope that the fans help us reach the final. We are more confident now because 1-0 is a manageable result and I don't think Fenerbahçe will be so strong here. We know they are solid away but Benfica at home are stronger and due to that we believe that we can reach the final.

 

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Óscar Cardozo, SL Benfica forward: 


We are calm and ready for Fenerbahçe, a tough opponent, but we have to beat them tomorrow in order to reach the final. We have to play our own game, create chances and score. We are playing well so we have to take advantage of it to go through.It’s an important moment of my career. I’ll do my best for the team and I ask fans to come to the stadium to help us reach the final.

 

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Rafael Benítez (Chelsea FC)
Manager Rafael Benítez of Chelsea FC during a training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg against FC Basel 1893

 

 

 

 

 

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Frank Lampard (Chelsea FC)
Frank Lampard of Chelsea FC during a training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg against FC Basel 1893
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Chelsea FC players train
Chelsea FC players during a training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg against FC Basel 1893

 

 

 

 

Dirk Kuyt, Fenerbahçe SK forward:


We received very good results this season and accordingly, I would say that we had a successful season. But football is a game that is very cruel. There must be a trophy in our hands at the end of the season. Our league hopes have declined, but we are fighting for this. We have beaten very strong teams in Europe and we're going to repeat it in Portugal. I trust my friends. Everyone is focused.

 

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Enzo Pérez, SL Benfica midfielder:


We have faith that at home we can get the result we need. Although Fenerbahce have a good team with important players, we do not lack confidence. With the support of our fans we can turn this around and reach the final. We have had a very good Europa League campaign, but we want to be in the final. It would be an important step for everyone.

 

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SL Benfica have hosted Fenerbahçe SK before, in the first round of the 1975/76 European Champion Clubs' Cup, and the Portuguese side have happy memories of a 7-0 scoreline that remains Fenerbahçe's heaviest ever defeat in Europe.

Former Portuguese international Nené, who holds the record appearances for Benfica at 802, was one of two hat-trick scorers that night. Still working for the club aged 63, Nené spoke to UEFA.com about that memorable match and facing Turkish opposition.

 

This afternoon we'll have live updates from all four press conferences.

Chelsea FC get the ball rolling at 17.00CET, then it's over to Lisbon for SL Benfica from 17.30CET. FC Basel 1893 coach Murat Yakin will address the media at Stamford Bridge from 19.15CET before Fenerbahçe SK wrap things up at 19.30CET.

Benfica and Chelsea both train at their training grounds while visitors Fenerbahçe and Basel will acquaint themselves with the stadiums this evening.

©uefa.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.

 

Ahead of Fenerbahçe SK's trip to SL Benfica, forward Moussa Sow spoke to UEFA.com about life in Istanbul and what a place in the 2013 UEFA Europa League final would mean.

 

Cristian showed impressive resilience on Sunday as he converted a penalty three minutes from time to earn Fenerbahçe SK a 2-1 victory over Kayserispor that keeps their slender league title ambitions alive – anything less would have handed the trophy to Galatasaray AŞ.

Cristian was left in tears last week as he fired a spot kick against the base of the post at home to SL Benfica, but showed his mettle to complete a battling comeback. It came at a minor price, however, as Aykut Kocaman's hopes of resting key players ahead of Thursday's trip were spoiled. Moussa Sow and Dirk Kuyt were introduced after the break to seek a winner.

Galatasaray are seven points clear at the summit with three games remaining.

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Former Scotland winger Pat Nevin has been previewing Chelsea FC's second leg against FC Basel 1893 in his column on the west London outfit's website.

"With Chelsea likely to play 69 games this season, a record for any Premier League club, it just never seems to stop," he writes. "The focus is back on to the Europa League and the visit of Basel, which although not easy should be doable for the team if the attitude is right.

"Sometimes when you support a team it isn't easy to get a clear perspective, so now and again it is worth viewing it from the oppositions' point of view. For Basel they know they need to come to Stamford Bridge and score at least two goals. It should clear their minds and simplify their manager's tactics, but if they are too gung-ho they could easily get torn apart on the break.

"They also have the not so minor problem that their main centre-back [Aleksandar] Dragovic is now suspended. Once again Chelsea's chief enemy is complacency and maybe a little tiredness thrown in. A professional job should do the trick and we can look forward to yet another jaunt over the channel for a major European final."

FC Basel 1893 goalkeeper Yann Sommer has been talking to UEFA.com about not taking the UEFA Europa League too seriously, his penalty shoot-out prowess and how his team are putting Swiss football on the map. To hear more from him and his coach, Murat Yakin, view the video.

 

"It was the second half of champions," said Jorge Jesus after his SL Benfica team carved out a 2-1 win at CS Marítimo in Madeira on Monday. "Marítimo caused us problems in the first half but we responded well in the second."

The squad landed back in Lisbon at 2am yet were still greeted by some 200 euphoric supporters. "We now have an important match on Thursday," added Jesus. "We do not have time for anything; not even to train. We need to recover as best we can for the Europa League semi-final."

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SL Benfica will take a four-point lead into the final three games of the Portuguese Liga season after a hard-fought 2-1 victory at CS Marítimo on Monday evening.

It looked set to be a routine evening for the visitors on Madeira as Lima broke the deadlock with a fifth-minute penalty but Igor Rossi equalised just before half-time. The 24-year-old found the net again midway through the second period; this time his own and Benfica held on for the win.

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UEFA.com's resident statistitian runs the rule over the semi-finals. UEFA Europa League regulars Eduardo Eduardo Salvio and SL Benfica set new competition highs while Chelsea FC became the first team to win the opening leg of a semi-final away from home. There's also some good news for first-leg losers FC Basel 1893 and Benfica: five of the past six UEFA Europa League finalists trailed at some point in their last-four ties. For these and more, see here:

 

FC Basel 1893 captain Marco Streller has agreed a new one-year contract extension, tying him to the Swiss side until 30 June 2015. The former Switzerland striker rejoined the St. Jakob-Park outfit in June 2007 after three and a half seasons with VfB Stuttgart and a loan spell at 1. FC Köln. The 31-year-old, who made his debut for the club in July 2001, has scored 117 goals in 250 Basel appearances.

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UEFA.com's MatchCentre is now live, and will bring you all the action from Fenerbahçe SK v SL Benifca and FC Basel 1893 v Chelsea FC.

Head over to the UEFA Europa League page for full coverage.

Fernando Torres tells UEFA.com he is finally settling at Chelsea FC and as they visit FC Basel 1893 he admits "it's not been easy for anyone but I think the team is improving".

 

FC Basel 1893 supporters are starting to congregate on the grass verges outside St. Jakob-Halle, taking advantage of a beautiful spring evening in the north west of Switzerland. There is an air of confidence emanating from the home contingent, having opened up a three-point lead at the Swiss Super League summit. They are simultaneously excited by the visit of a second team from the Premier League after eliminating Tottenham Hotspur FC on penalties to reach this stage.

Chelsea FC's UEFA Champions League triumph is only eleven months old and their know-how at this stage of UEFA club competition could prove pivotal. Their supporters, decked in 'Champions League winners' T-shirts, are in good number.

©Getty Images

 

The local media are being highly realistic ahead of Fenerbahçe SK's first leg against SL Benfica, warning of the visitors' attacking prowess. Benfica's performance against Sporting Clube de Portugal last weekend received a lot of praise on Turkish TV. Former Fenerbahçe star Pierre van Hooijdonk says in Fanatik Gazetesi: "Benfica seems to be the stronger of the two. But Fener need to believe in their chances. Of course they can make it to the finals. There is no such rule that a team playing the first game at home has to win. Fener can also finish the job in Lisbon."

©AFP/Getty Images

 

Fabian Schär, Basel defender: 


Playing against Tottenham felt like our biggest match ever, but the semi-final against Chelsea FC is bigger still. This year was a crazy year for me. I am happy how things turned out, it couldn’t have gone any better.

©AFP/Getty Images

 

Murat Yakin, FC Basel 1893 coach:


Dreaming is not for me, I am a realistic guy. If we talk about the final, it is because we are now very close. I have tried to present my vision to the team, that I hoped could lead the way to the final in Amsterdam, and now we are so close that we could reach it with two matches. I have a team that grew from match to match, and we have gotten this far not just by being lucky. We have played some good matches at home that we deserved to win. They were good start for the return match. And we need two very good matches or one very good and one average to make it to the final and we believe in it.

 

©AFP/Getty Images

 

 

 

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