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Europa D-Day dawns for Chelsea and Benfica

LAMPARD-CHEERAMSTERDAM, May 15th – Fans from Chelsea and Benfica descended on Amsterdam on Wednesday ahead of a Europa League final in which the two sides will be pursuing history of a very different kind.

For Chelsea, the match represents an opportunity to become the first team to hold the Europa League and Champions League titles at the same time (albeit only for 10 days).

Benfica, meanwhile, hope to end a 51-year wait for a major European trophy and put a stop to a traumatic run of six consecutive defeats in continental finals stretching back to 1963.

Chelsea will begin the game as favourites, 12 months on from their success against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, but interim manager Rafael Benitez must contend with several injury problems.

Livewire Belgian forward Eden Hazard has been ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury, while club captain John Terry, who has an ankle complaint, also seems unlikely to feature.

The former England defender only managed to complete one lap of the stadium in training on Tuesday evening before returning to the changing room.

Terry sat out last season’s Champions League final in Munich through suspension but lifted the trophy alongside Frank Lampard.

Lampard is expected to captain the side in Terry’s absence but he says there have been no discussions about who will receive the trophy in case of victory.

“Before the game I don’t think it’s something to talk about,” said the midfielder. “I don’t like to tempt fate. I haven’t had a conversation with anyone, I don’t think you should. We will see.”

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The front page of Portuguese daily A Bola on Wednesday urged Benfica, whose former players Ramires and David Luiz now play for Chelsea, to ‘Make History’, after a dispiriting build-up to the game.

The Lisbon side sank to an an agonising 2-1 defeat at Porto on Saturday that left their arch rivals on the brink of victory in the Portuguese Primeira Liga.

Porto can now secure a third consecutive championship by winning at Pacos de Ferreira on Sunday, but Benfica captain Luisao says his side will have no trouble focusing on Wednesday’s game.

“We had a very important match on Saturday but every game has been a final in recent weeks,” said the Brazilian.

“It’s great to live like that. I don’t have to motivate anyone. We’re in the Europa League final, so you don’t need motivation.

“The new players understand the responsibility of wearing the Benfica shirt. We’re feeling the adrenaline and the butterflies in our stomachs because it’s such a big final.”

At Chelsea, the three-year tenure of former coach Jose Mourinho left a strong Portuguese connection, although his two compatriots in the current squad — Paulo Ferreira and Henrique Hilario — are unlikely to feature in Amsterdam.

Mourinho’s shadow looms large over Benitez, amid reports he is poised to return to the club from Real Madrid, but the Spaniard has history of his own to pursue.

Having won the competition with Valencia in 2004, he could become only the second coach — after Giovanni Trapattoni — to win the Europa League with two different clubs.

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Benitez has faced outright opposition from some of Chelsea’s fans since succeeding Roberto Di Matteo in November, but he says that would only make success over Benfica even more memorable.

“It’s a final, so I want to win, and if we can do, I’ll be really proud because we’ve worked really hard in difficult circumstances and you have to give real credit to everyone,” he said.

The British Consulate said 12,000 Chelsea fans were expected to travel to Amsterdam for the game.

They made their presence felt on Tuesday night, with local police watching on cautiously as the English supporters traded taunts with their Benfica counterparts in the city’s notorious Red Light District.

Amsterdam has deployed hundreds of extra police for the match and City Hall said preventative searches had been permitted due to “recent confrontations between hardcore Ajax fans and visiting British fans”.

The two teams have only been granted 9,800 tickets each despite the Amsterdam Arena’s 48,000-capacity and British media reports claimed tickets were changing hands for up to £1,570 ($2,390, 1,850 euros) online.

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