AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Benfica’s players have the mental strength to lift themselves for Wednesday’s Europa League final against Chelsea after a late defeat at rivals Porto in the Portuguese title race at the weekend, said coach Jorge Jesus.
A stoppage-time goal from substitute Kelvin handed Porto a dramatic 2-1 home win on Saturday that put them on the verge of a third consecutive league title, leaving heartbroken Benfica to pick themselves up for the Chelsea showpiece game.
“At the moment, this is the most important match and it is no use to talk about previous matches,” Jesus told reporters. “The Porto match just has nothing to do with this final.
“...Benfica are an important club so it wasn’t very difficult for them (the players) to change their mindset (after the Porto loss) and get up for this game.
“In my opinion, the two best teams in the Europa League reached the final,” he added, stressing that the twice European champions had every chance of lifting the trophy despite losing their last six European finals.
“If we compare the performances of Chelsea and Benfica in Europe over the last few seasons it’s normal to think Chelsea are favourites but a final is a final and we at Benfica have every possibility of becoming the winners tomorrow,” he said.
Benfica won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962 but have since finished runners-up in five finals, the last in 1990 when AC Milan beat them in Vienna, as well as the 1983 UEFA Cup final.
In his fourth season at the helm in Lisbon, Jesus leads a side against Chelsea for the second time after Benfica were eliminated in the Champions League quarter-finals last season before the London side went on to lift the trophy.
Chelsea won 1-0 in Lisbon and 2-1 in London thanks to a stoppage time goal by Raul Meireles to wrap up a 3-1 aggregate win over the Portuguese champions. But for the Benfica coach those two matches mean nothing for this year’s final.
“It will be different tomorrow night as Chelsea have a new manager (interim coach Rafael Benitez) who has his team following different ideas about football,” said Jesus.
“While they now have several different players with better individual quality...that makes them better as they lacked players like that last season.”
Benfica won the Portuguese league title in their first season under Jesus and have now re-established themselves in continental competition after a lean spell in Europe.
“We are still recovering and regaining international prestige after last year’s Champions League quarter-final and this final,” he said.
“And winning tomorrow will give us the prestigious opportunity to play either Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund for the Super Cup,” added Jesus referring to this year’s Champions league finalists who meet on May 25 at Wembley.
Reporting by Theo Ruizenaar; Editing by Ken Ferris