SL Benfica 1-2 Chelsea FC
(Cardozo 68; Torres 60, Ivanović 90+3)
Chelsea FC ended Iberia's stranglehold on the UEFA Europa League, edging out SL Benfica in an absorbing final as they became the first team to simultaneously hold the continent's two major club competition trophies.
The three previous winners since the UEFA Cup was rebranded – and five of the six finalists – hailed from Portugal or Spain, but the balance of power shifted in the very last minute of the 317th and last day of this, the fourth edition. When Branislav Ivanović rose imperiously to send a towering header into the far corner the centre-back sealed a victory few foresaw when Rafael Benítez was installed as interim Chelsea coach in November.
Then, the Blues were fighting for their UEFA Champions League survival, not yet part of a UEFA Europa League group stage where viewers came to expect the unexpected – Chelsea's triumph was an extension of the theme. BSC Young Boys bowed out despite picking up as many points as their section winners, Taison hit the "goal of the century" and Club Atlético de Madrid's 16-game winning run was ended by a side without a European victory in 43 years.
Worse was to follow for Atlético as their title defence was ended by FC Rubin Kazan in the round of 32, when history was made with the UEFA Europa League's first penalty shoot-out. FC Steaua Bucureşti prevailed to quickly end AFC Ajax's hopes of a final on home turf. Two of the other seven sides transferring from the UEFA Champions League ahead of the knockout stage would be there instead.
Benfica and Chelsea need no introduction to the corridors of power in European football, but 2012/13 was notable for the rise of a few new names up the food chain. KRC Genk extended their European campaign beyond Christmas for the first time while FC Anji Makhachkala, FC Viktoria Plzeň and Levante UD, the Spanish team in their first season in UEFA club competition, all reached the round of 16.
Fenerbahçe SK and FC Basel 1893 set new high-water marks of their own in reaching the semi-finals of a UEFA club competition for the first time. Indeed, by edging out Tottenham Hotspur FC on spot kicks, Basel became the first Swiss side to reach the last four in 35 years. Benfica and Chelsea then restored order, though the Portuguese team were pushed hard by Fenerbahçe.
So onto the final between teams united by flagging legs after marathon seasons, by a sense of belief and by a desire to win a first UEFA Europa League title. Two-time European champions Benfica, seeking a first European final win in seven attempts, dominated the first hour before Fernando Torres broke the deadlock with a goal borne of sheer power, poise and purpose.
Óscar Cardozo quickly equalised from the spot but Ivanović booked the trophy on the late flight back to London. It was a triumph over adversity for Chelsea, both on the night and as a season as a whole. Benítez was appointed knowing he would only be in position until the end of the season and with a new team struggling to gel. He was not always embraced by the fans but they were queuing up to give him a hug in Amsterdam.