By Rupert Fryer
It took an age to drop. But you always knew it would. They had dominated from the outset, but this just wasn’t going to be Benfica’s night. And so when, at the very end of stoppage time, Branislav Ivanovic leaped highest and sent a looping header towards a stranded Artur’s back post, it was only ever destined for one place. It’s been an awful week for the Aguias.
Prior to what was effectively a league title decider at Porto this past weekend, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus spoke of the dark cloud that hovered above. The potential disaster that could derail their charge towards what was set to be an historic treble. And when Kelvin hopped off the bench to fire a late winner, Jesus sank to his knees on the touchline in the Dragao, looking up at the encroaching gloom from above. The league title looked to have slipped from his grasp right at the last.
|GUTTMANN'S CURSE CONTINUES
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|68'||GOAL! Benfica are level! Cardozo thumps his penalty past Cech after the Portuguese side were awarded a spot-kick for Azpilicueta's handball. Game on!|
|82'||SAVE! Oscar Cardozo picks up the ball at the edge of the area and guides a super volley at goal which Cech does well to tip over the bar. The striker then inadvertently clears the resulting corner for the Blues!|
|90+3'||INCREDIBLE! AMAZING! BRANISLAV IVANOVIC LOOPS IN A HEADER WHICH HANGS IN THE AIR BEFORE CATALYSING AN EXPLOSION AMONG THE CHELSEA FANS!!|
"Again, for the second time in five days we conceded the decisive goal in injury time. Once again the players felt they didn't deserve to lose. At the end they felt they'd been gunned down," said Jesus.
And yet the evening had begun so well. The Portuguese were much the better side for the entire first 45 minutes. Lima was left out for Rodrigo and the Spaniard had a golden opportunity to give his side an early lead but slipped twice in a matter of seconds with Cech on the floor and the goal gaping.
Nico Gaitan squandered three more good chances before the break, first leaning back and sending his shot high over the bar after he and Salvio had worked some space inside the Chelsea box, then opting to square for Cardozo when he had the opportunity to volley straight at goal from 12 yards before later going with the wrong foot when the ball broke to him in space on the edge of the box. With every chance that went begging, the sense of dread grew larger.
When Torres ran away to round Artur minutes after Oscar Cardozo saw his goal disallowed, it looked as though it was happening all over again. For all their dominance, Benfica were behind. Their heads dropped, their confidence diminishing by the minute. Jesus, much to his credit, realised and quickly made a double substitution, hoping to inject some enthusiasm through Ola John and Lima - a decision that had an immediate impact as the latter darted into the box to win a penalty after linking well with Cardozo.
The big Paraguayan dispatched from the spot with ease, but Benfica simply never found a second wind. They looked drained. And as thousands of Benfica fans applauded a fine late tackle from Luisao to concede a corner right at the end, Jesus must have worried. Not again. Surely not twice in five days. But it did happen again - and just like that it was gone. So close. But not close enough. "Maybe it is more about luck, more bad luck for us," lamented Ola John. "We did everything we could to win," said Artur. "I cannot explain how we lost."
But lose they did. And Now all that remains is that dark cloud floating above. Should Porto, as expected, dispatch Pacos de Ferreira and clinch the league title, Benfica’s upcoming Taca de Portugal final with Vitoria Guimaraes will be the most anti of anti-climaxes and perhaps even the end of the road for Jesus.
While one league title and three league cups in four years alongside a string of impressive displays in the Champions League is a respectable return, it may not be enough. Not for Benfica. Not for the thousands left in floods of tears on Wednesday night.
They gave it everything, but it just wasn't to be. The curse continues.
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