Rafa Benitez has not had the easiest time of in his spell as Interim boss of Chelsea, but the Spaniard his guided his side to their first UEFA Europa League final as they take on Portuguese giants Benfica.
The Blues have recovered from the setback of losing their Champions League crown at the group stage and their convincing victory over FC Basel in the last four means they have a chance of winning continental silverware for a second successive campaign.
ITV will broadcast exclusive free-to-air coverage of the climax to the 2012/3 UEFA Europa League campaign from the Amsterdam ArenA on Wednesday, May 15 (kick-off 7.45pm).
Rafael Benitez has never shaken off his original Chelsea moniker of ‘interim manager’ during his short spell with the club following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.
Fans chanted for the return of Jose Mourinho during their comfortable semi-final win against FC Basel, but Chelsea’s successful passage to the final of Europe’s second club competition confirms them as England’s most successful club on the continent for the second season in a row.
David Luiz, a former Benfica player, has thrilled with a series of spectacular long-distance strikes in this season’s European campaign.
The 26-year-old joined the Blues in 2011 from the Portuguese side and was an integral part of the club’s success in winning the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup last season.
Striker Fernando Torres has rediscovered his scoring touch in the competition, with the Spaniard leading the line backed up from midfield by the creative talents of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.
Benitez may never be able to win the fans over, but what he can win is another European trophy for the Chelsea cabinet, while also bolstering his potential job prospects at another major European outfit once his spell at Chelsea comes to an end.
However, there is no under-estimating that the Blues face a difficult task against the Portuguese outfit they face in this season’s final in Amsterdam.
Benfica have been in fine form in their domestic league and earned a hard-fought victory over Fenerbahce in the semi-finals to reach this stage.
But an injury-time winner for Porto in the a league game at the weekend ended Benfica’s unbeaten run, moving Porto top of the Portuguese league with one game left.
Portugal’s top two sides both came into the game having avoided defeat all season long, and Benfica will have to pick themselves up for Wednesday’s final.
Despite a domestic title seemingly slipping from their grasp, they boast plenty of attacking talent themselves in the form of Oscar Cardozo and Nicolas Gaitan.
Both Benfica and Chelsea finished third in the Champions League group stage and so entered the Europa League competition in the last 32.
The Portugese side have plenty of European pedigree having qualified for their ninth European final, though their first in 23 years since a 1-0 defeat to AC Milan in the 1990 European Cup Final.
Previous notable appearances include back-to-back victories in the 1961 and 1962 European Cup showpieces and unsuccessful presences in four other European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968 and 1988), and a UEFA Cup final in 1983, where they lost to Anderlecht.
Before this season, Chelsea had never reached a final of the UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League.
They previously appeared in two Cup Winners’ Cup finals in 1971, beating Real Madrid 2-1, and in 1998 where they defeated Stuttgart 1-0, plus two Champions League finals , the first in 2008 where they lost on penalties amid torrential rain in Moscow to Manchester United.
Four years later they avenged that defeat with a win over Bayern Munich in their own back yard on penalties.
In a unique first, Chelsea are the only Champions League holders to play in the following season’s Europa League final, after becoming the first Champions League winners to be eliminated in the group stage.
They can also become the first club to respectively win the Champions League and Europa League in successive seasons.
If Chelsea win, they will join a unique group of four clubs, after Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich, to have won all three major UEFA club titles.
The only previous meeting between Benfica and Chelsea in European competition was in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals, where Chelsea won 3-1 on aggregate en route to the title.
Three players may face their former clubs in the final: Benfica’s Nemanja Matic, who was transferred from Chelsea, and Chelsea’s David Luiz and Ramires, who were transferred from Benfica.
More than 50,000 fans will pack into the Amsterdam ArenA, the home of legendary Dutch club Ajax, to witness the first major European final of the season.
A year ago Chelsea won the Champions league with a tremendous victory over Bayern Munich, and almost exactly a year on from that extraordinary triumph, they will play in another European final. Can they claim a unique European double?
Full details of how to follow the 2013 Europa League Final below:
ITV will screen exclusive free-to-air coverage of the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final between Benfica and Chelsea.
Matt Smith presents live coverage from inside the Amsterdam ArenA on ITV and in high-definition on ITV HD.
Build-up to kick-off begins at 7.15pm. Analysis and opinion will be provided throughout the evening by regular ITV pundits Roy Keane, Lee Dixon and Gareth Southgate.
Match commentary comes from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend, while Ned Boulting will provide reports and interviews with the managers and key players.
Live coverage will be available to watch in high-definition on ITV HD, plus live streaming can be viewed online via itv.com/football.
Wednesday 15th May
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL 2013: Benfica v Chelsea
LIVE: 7.15pm-10.15pm – ITV
Watch ITV’s live coverage online via – itv.com/football
Thursday 16th May
UEFA Europa League Final Highlights
7.30pm-8.00pm – ITV4
Both BBC Radio 5 live and talkSPORT will have live audio commentary of the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final from Amsterdam.
Mark Pougatch presents 5 live Sport from the Amsterdam ArenA with coverage beginning at 7pm.
talkSPORT will have all the build-up, special interviews and analysis in its programming throughout the day, starting in Alan Brazil’s Sports Breakfast, and running through to the start of live coverage at 7pm.
Mark Saggers introduces live coverage from the stadium, with match commentary from Sam Matterface and Stan Collymore.