Rafa Benitez's parting gift for Chelsea: Europa League glory for the Blues
Spaniard claims Europa League win proves he has been an 'interim' success as Chelsea manager
Rafa Benitez claimed that Chelsea's Europa League victory, the 11th major trophy in ten years under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, was vindication for his working methods.
Having been out-played for much of the game by Benfica, Chelsea won the game 2-1 in the third minute of injury-time with a header by Branislav Ivanovic. It followed Oscar Cardozo's penalty which brought Benfica level after a brilliant opening goal by Fernando Torres.
There was applause from some elements of the Chelsea support for the unpopular interim coach when he later posed with the trophy in front of the pitch-side photographers.
Benitez said that while the trophy would appear to vindicate the way in which he had worked for the last six months, he had never doubted his own approach.
Benitez said: "I think it's sad to say this, but to do your job in six months, it changes nothing if you win or lose the final in terms of what we were trying to do. The job was done with all the hard work on the training ground. Iva scored a great goal in the end, something we had been working on.
"We were trying to do our jobs as professionals and, in the end, we have a trophy. But we had worked hard whether we won this or not."
Ivanovic added: "It's a great feeling this team. We deserved it because it's been a very difficult season with a lot of games. This was a very hard game, very difficult. Benfica played very well but in the end we scored from a set piece. We practised those a lot before the game. We deserved to get a trophy this season. It was special for me [after missing the Champions League final]. It was great for us to play another European final. Now we will celebrate."
For the second year in succession, Frank Lampard and John Terry lifted the trophy with Terry once more in full Chelsea kit despite not having even figured on the bench because of injury. Lampard's new one-year contract extension is expected to be announced in the next few days with the player himself admitting for the first time that it "looks good".
"I really hope so [that he will stay]," he said. "We haven't sat down on it yet, but it looks good."
For Lampard, the victory completed a set of winners' medals in all five domestic and European competitions. He said: "Yes, it been an amazing time. Talk about ups and downs. We're a group, we're a team. We were tired because of a long season but we showed a great desire. Nobody deserves it more than Ivanovic. He's been fantastic. We're fortunate but I think you make your own luck."
Torres, who scored his 15th cup goal of the season with the opener in the 59th minute, said: "I'm very happy. It's been a tough game. They were much better than us in the first half but our quality made the difference in the second half. The first half was not good enough. We were talking about changing our mentality and concentration at half time."
On the supporters applauding him, Benitez said: "I was just enjoying myself with the trophy. There was a lot of goals. I could see everyone was happy, so I was happy too." Asked whether he had won some of them over, he replied: "I'm quite happy, pleased because we were working so hard during the season."
Benitez also confirmed the likelihood of Lampard staying: "He's a great professional, a good player, and was working hard in every training session. It's not my decision. We can see he has improved. He has scored a lot of goals in this time, maybe because we were managing him quite well. At his age with his commitment, sometimes you are not fresh when you play twice a week. But we managed it. He still has a lot of football in him if he's fit. I think that next year he will do well again."
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