Chelsea advances to Europa final
Chelsea reached its first Europa League final on Thursday after finishing off Basel with a comeback 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge, giving the team a chance to salvage some pride after becoming the first reigning Champions League holder to get knocked out in the group stage.
''Really pleased to be there,'' interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. ''We've been working so hard through the year to be in a semifinal, final. And now we're in the final. The players really deserve to be there.''
Fernando Torres scored one goal and set up another, while David Luiz added a spectacular curling strike to cap the victory.
Chelsea held a 2-1 lead from the first leg but Basel threatened a comeback when Mohamed Salah put the Swiss side ahead in first-half injury time.
But Torres engineered the comeback after the break, equalizing in the 50th and helping create the second for Victor Moses just two minutes later.
David Luiz finished off the victory in style, curling in an unstoppable strike from outside the area in the 59th as Chelsea advanced 5-2 on aggregate.
Chelsea will play Benfica in the final in Amsterdam on May 15 in what will be Benitez's only chance to finish his tenure with a trophy. Benfica beat Turkish club Fenerbahce 3-1 at home to turn around a 1-0 deficit from the first leg and advance.
Chelsea lost the final in the Club World Cup this season along with defeats in the European Super Cup and England's Community Shield, but will be a big favorite against Benfica.
''We have one more opportunity to win a big title,'' Luiz said. ''We have lost three finals this season.''
Benitez is widely expected to leave in the offseason and the crowd made it clear they won't miss him, with chants of ''Jose Mourinho'' ringing out regularly around Stamford Bridge. Mourinho hinted strongly at a return to the London club on Wednesday after Real Madrid was eliminated in the Champions League semifinals.
But Benitez once again found a way to turn a game around in the second half, after Basel had taken advantage of poor defending to go ahead just before the break.
Valentin Stocker fed Salah with a pass through two defenders that beat the offside trap and set him free against Cech, and the winger calmly slotted his finish into the left side of the net.
The lead didn't last long though, and Chelsea took full control after the break - although Benitez wouldn't say what he told the team at halftime.
''It was just things we weren't doing well, things we could improve,'' Benitez said. ''And the reaction was really good.''
Frank Lampard's low shot from outside the area was saved by Yann Sommer, and Torres slid in to fire the rebound into the roof of the net for the equalizer. The second came almost immediately and in similar fashion. This time it was Torres who fired a shot from outside the area that was deflected into the path of Moses, who slotted in from nearly the same spot.
If those goals were more gritty than pretty, David Luiz added a bit of flair seven minutes later.
Lampard collected a cross outside the area and thought about shooting before laying the ball off to the Brazilian defender, whose left-footed shot curled perfectly into the far corner past a helpless Sommer.
''In the first half we played very good and I think we caused Chelsea some problems,'' Basel coach Murat Yakin said. ''In the second half, it just went too fast. We made a few mistakes and we were caught out cold. But I want to give compliments to my team, we put in a great performance here.''
Lampard was looking to equal Bobby Tambling's club record of 202 career goals and nearly converted Chelsea's first chance in the eighth minute. Torres played Lampard clear with a delicate lob into the area, but the midfielder's first-time effort bounced against the far post.
With the game out of reach in the closing minutes, Basel's fans saluted their team's run to the semifinals by lighting flares and unfurling flags in the away section, jumping up and down and applauding.
Basel still has a shot at a domestic double as it tops the Swiss league and has reached the cup final.
''This was a great experience for us, but it's also a new experience for us to be still in three competitions in May,'' Yakin said. ''I think that the team has really grown from this.''