Europa League / Survives scare from FC Basel
Chelsea entered the Europa League final for the first time in its history after surviving a first-half scare to defeat Swiss champion FC Basel 3-1 in the second leg of its semifinal on Thursday.
Leading 2-1 from last week’s first leg in Switzerland, Chelsea risked elimination after Mohamed Salah’s well-taken goal in first-half injury time put the visitor 1-0 up.
But goals from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses and a David Luiz stunner early in the second half gave last season’s Champions League winner a 5-2 aggregate victory that sets up a meeting with Benfica in the final in Amsterdam on May 15.
Third time lucky
It was a case of third time lucky for Chelsea, which lost in the semifinals in both the League Cup and the FA Cup this season, while Basel fell short in its attempt to become the first Swiss team to reach a major European final.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez will now look to end a testing season by claiming the second Europa League title of his career after his 2004 success with Valencia, although his immediate priority is to secure a return to the Champions League via the league.
Basel captain Marco Streller passed a late fitness to start at Stamford Bridge and he almost made an immediate impression, shooting wide from a good position in the first minute.
Chelsea’s fans had just taken to serenading former coach Jose Mourinho, who has been linked with a return to the club this week, when the host’s first chance arrived in the ninth minute.
Torres’ clipped pass freed Frank Lampard, but his shot came back off the post, leaving the England midfielder one goal behind Bobby Tambling in the club’s all-time scoring chart on 201 goals.
Basel continued to attack gamely, however, and after being thwarted once by Petr Cech, Salah broke the deadlock in stoppage time when he calmly swept home from Valentin Stocker’s cleverly disguised through ball.
The Egyptian’s strike left Basel one goal from the final, but Chelsea reasserted its grip on the tie with a rapid three-goal salvo in the first 14 minutes of the second half.
Torres claimed the first, in the 49th minute. After a driving run from the excellent Eden Hazard, Lampard’s low shot was pushed out by goalkeeper Yann Sommer and Torres slid in to slam the loose ball into the roof of the goal.
Moses put Chelsea ahead three minutes later with another finish from close range, this time after Torres’ low shot ricocheted into his path.
Luiz saved the best for last just before the hour, stepping up to Lampard’s lay-off and curling a majestic left-foot shot right into the top-left corner from 25 yards.
Basel’s response saw Fabian Frei hit the bar with a deflected shot, while Marcelo Diaz also tested Cech with an effort from distance, but for Chelsea, the worst had already passed.
The host might even have amplified its lead further in the dying stages, but Sommer saved well from substitute Juan Mata and Torres.
Benfica emerged victorious from a dramatic last-four tie against Fenerbahce, with a 3-1 win at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon giving it a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo was the hero with two expert finishes either side of the interval after a Dirk Kuyt penalty had cancelled out Nicolas Gaitan’s opener for the Portuguese club.
Benfica is through to its first continental final since 1990, when it was beaten 1-0 by AC Milan in the European Cup final.
At London: Chelsea 3 (Torres 50, Moses 52, David Luiz 59) bt Basel 1 (Salah 45+1) (Chelsea wins 5-2 on aggregate).
At Lisbon: Benfica 3 (Gaitan 9, Oscar Cardozo 35, 66) bt Fenerbahce 1 (Kuyt 23-pen) (Benfica wins 3-2 on aggregate).