By Miles Chambers
Chelsea fans waxed lyrical last May that their Champions League triumph was written in the stars. Drama, luck, destiny, fortune - it all came together against Bayern Munich. On Wednesday they have the chance to taste continental glory for the second season running in the Europa League final. But for Benfica, their opposition at the Amsterdam ArenA, the clash represents a chance at reversing a curse and ending a barren spell in Europe that has dragged on for over half a century.
|EURO CUP CURSE HAUNTS BENFICA
|AC MILAN BECOME FIRST ITALIAN VICTORS
||Benfica went all the way to the final for the third season in a row, even without Guttmann by their side, but AC Milan triumphed 2-1 thanks to a Jose Altafini double cancelling out Eusebio's opener.|
|INTER WIN SECOND TITLE IN A ROW
||Two years later, Benfica had high hopes of becoming kings of Europe again but this time another Milan side, Inter, were on hand to swipe them aside 1-0 at a rain-swept San Siro.|
|MANCHESTER UNITED TAKE THE TROPHY
|1968||Ten years after Manchester United's Busby Babes died in the 1958 Munich air disaster, the Red Devils rose to their first European Cup title, condemning Benfica to their third final defeat in six seasons. George Best starred in a 4-1 win AET.|
|PSV WIN ON PENALTIES
||Twenty years on from their previous final loss, Benfica were this time thwarted by Guus Hiddink's PSV on penalties after the game finished 0-0. PSV won the tournament without a single victory from the quarter-final onwards.|
|MILAN BEAT BENFICA AGAIN
|1990||Benfica's seventh and most recent European Cup final appearance came 23 years ago, when Frank Rijkaard's solitary goal was enough to see off the Benfiquistas in Vienna, the very city that Guttmann was buried.|
His three-year tenure began with a league title which gave them access to the European Cup, a competition which remained in its infancy. Benfica stormed to the final, where they beat Barcelona 3-2 and ended Real Madrid's run of five wins in the first five tournaments.
Guttmann's charges, deploying the trainer's famous 4-2-4 system, scored 26 goals in nine games in that 1960-61 European adventure and racked up an equally impressive 22 goals in their Cup defence. The culmination was two second-half goals in the final from future striking legend Eusebio, who Guttmann signed up as an 18-year-old in 1960, in a 5-3 victory over Madrid at the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam.
But Benfica fans' euphoria came crashing down with a thud not long after. With five trophies in three years, Guttmann demanded a bumper pay packet but Benfica's board refused and the Aguias' Hungarian hero left the old Estadio da Luz.
Guttmann was a journeyman by nature and coached 23 different clubs during a 40-year coaching career but his Benfica experience cut deep and his words behind closed doors have had the longest-lasting effect on his legacy. He allegedly fumed to the board: "Not in 100 years from now will Benfica win a European Cup."
While it is unclear whether Guttmann was referring specifically to the European Cup, 51 years down the line his words will have remained unbowed, his sentiment unbent and his curse in any European competition unbroken.
Benfica won 13 league titles in 14 years following his departure but European success eluded them, despite boasting Eusebio in attack and reaching three finals between 1963 and 1968.
The Portuguese club had two more chances in 1988 and 1990 to end the hoodoo but failed. In the latter final, Eusebio prayed at the late Guttmann's grave ahead of their match with AC Milan but it was to no avail as the Aquias lost 1-0 to continue their plight.
Benfica have reached the final of lesser European competitions just once since 1962 - a 1983 Uefa Cup defeat to Anderlecht - but Wednesday's showpiece represents a seventh chance to break Guttmann's curse just after its halfway point.
Of course, other factors have played their part in Benfica's woes. Club owners who spout cash have so far avoided the Primeira Division. The Aguias have also had to survive on the European stage in recent years via scouting from South America due to top homegrown players seeking their fortune abroad, in stark contrast to Benfica's 1962 victory when every player was Portuguese. Likewise, the change in format in European competitions has ensured more hurdles for league champions of lesser countries, as three or four top teams from giant leagues have been thrown into the mix.
Finishing third in the group stage of their 2012-13 Champions League campaign saw them relegated to the Europa League. However, Jorge Jesus' side have lit up the competition and swatted aside four tricky opponents to reach May's climax.
|BENFICA'S 2012-13 EUROPA LEAGUE RUN
|Feb 14||Leverkusen||A||W 1-0|
|Feb 21||Leverkusen||H||W 2-1|
|Mar 7||Bordeaux||H||W 1-0|
|Mar 14||Bordeaux||A||W 3-2|
|Apr 4||Newcastle||H||W 3-1|
|Apr 11||Newcastle||A||D 1-1|
|Apr 25||Fenerbahce||A||L 1-0|
|May 2||Fenerbahce||H||W 3-1|
Jesus is no publicity magnet like Guttmann but he has grafted his way up the Portuguese coaching ladder to earn his place on the Estadio da Luz bench. He has a host of talented players at his disposal, too. Nemanja Matic has been sublime in midfield this season, Nicolas Gaitan will be key in the playmaker role that he effortlessly owns, and, in attack, Lima and Oscar Cardozo are expected to cause Chelsea problems.
The wind is not in Benfica's sails, however. Defeat to Porto on Saturday saw them concede top spot with just one game left this season. Jesus will have to work astutely to restore positivity after such a critical blow.
Could Benfica's success finally be written in the stars, though? The final is being played in Amsterdam - the same city that 51 years ago hosted the Eagles' last triumph on continental turf - while it is half a century since their 1963 final defeat at Wembley, where Uefa's flagship club event is being held again on May 25. Jorge Jesus said this week: "Benfica created a name for themselves in the 1960s and 1970s. It hasn't been the same in recent years but we've rediscovered our lustre, some of our old prestige."
Most fans of the Portuguese club won't pilgrimage to Guttmann's grave, but expect many to be whispering a silent prayer on Wednesday hoping that the coach's curse will finally end.