Benfica v Chelsea, Europa League Final: Benfica seeking to recapture their reputation of old
The final takes place in Amsterdam tonight
When it comes to feeling like they might be cursed in European competition few clubs get close to the sense of paranoia that Benfica naturally feel when they get to a final in one of Uefa's two leading competitions.
Between 1963 and 1990, Benfica lost five European Cup finals and one Uefa Cup final. In their golden years in the 1960s they reached five European Cup finals, winning the first two in 1961 and 1962, but by the time they were beaten by Sir Matt Busby's Manchester United in 1968 their run of defeats had already started with finals lost to Milan (1963) and Internazionale (1965).
When Jorge Jesus, the club's charismatic manager, took the stage for the club's press conference he was confronted with the reality of Benfica's record in European finals. It has been made worse by the success of their rivals Porto in the previous decade, when they won the Uefa Cup and the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in successive years. Benfica are glad to be in a final for the first time in 23 years.
"Benfica has had an excellent performance throughout its history," Jesus said. It created a reputation like that of Real Madrid and Milan, and in the 1960s and 1970s these were the teams in most finals. It hasn't been the same in the last few years.
"We were in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last year, we've been in the semi-finals of the Europa League, so we've been recovering our international prestige. That's what the president of Benfica and the club are working towards, improving the image of the club in Europe."
They come to Amsterdam having lost in the last minute to Porto on Saturday, conceding the leadership of the Portuguese Liga. Should Porto win their third straight title this year, and their 30th overall, it would put them within two of Benfica's record of 32, the most in Portuguese history.
It has been hard competing with the new powers of Europe, especially when Benfica have been forced to sell their best players – none more so than Ramires and David Luiz to Chelsea. This season their best player has been the Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic, who came from Chelsea as part of the Luiz deal in January 2011. Matic has taken the job of Javi Garcia, sold to Manchester City in the summer, and outshone his predecessor according to many.
Nevertheless, they go into the final as the underdogs. "If we compare the last few years of Benfica and Chelsea in European competitions, Chelsea have been in two Champions League finals, two Champions League semi-finals, and now are in the final of the Europa League," Jesus said. "It's normal people think they're the favourites. But a final is a final. Benfica have a different way of looking at those statistics and ideas. We have the chance of winning this final."
Benfica are still competing for three trophies this season, the Portuguese league and cup on top of the Europa League. Jesus's position is by no means assured if things go badly but they believe they have a chance.
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