Benfica: 15 Days of Tragedy

reuters

Aarran Summers

The year 2013 is Jorge Jesus’s Annus Horribilis. It was the stuff of nightmares for the then Benfica head coach. Fifteen days of hell descended on the Estadio de Luz and ironically for them, no one made light of the situation until it was too late.

It was part one of Benfica’s treble-winning party on May 11. It was a showdown with Porto – an ending those in the Portuguese FA could have only dreamed. It was the penultimate matchday, and the top two met with both sides unbeaten. Benfica only needed a win to take the title. A draw would see them needing a point against relegation-threatened, Moreirense. A defeat was considered unthinkable.

Benfica fielded a strong side, including Nico Gaitan and Eduardo Salvio upfront. Luisao and Ezequiel Garay the strong lynchpins in defence who had only conceded 17 goals all season. This fixture as different though; this was Porto; Benfica away from home at the Estadio do Dragao. 

Benfica scored first before Porto equalised soon afterwards. It was all Porto in the second half, and the tension was palpable. On 79 minutes, the hosts rolled the dice and sent on the young Brazilian, Kelvin. Porto’s, James Rodriguez hit the post with five minutes left. It was a precursor to what was going to happen next.

In the first minute of added time, Kelvin stunned Benfica with an incredible finish across the goalkeeper. The sight of a winded and exasperated, Jorge Jesus, dropping to his knees in disbelief has become famous. Benfica lost 2-1. 

It was mainly part one of three failed. Benfica fans were uneasy. Up next for them was Chelsea in the UEFA Europa League Final just four days later. It was to prove the perfect remedy of redemption for Jesus’ side, but how he was wrong.

Benfica outplayed Chelsea for large swathes of the game, but fell at the final hurdle once again, only this time the winner was even later. Branislav Ivanovic with the winner in the 93rd minute. It was a crushing blow for Benfica who had just lost their seventh successive European final. The club’s greatest player, Eusebio, watched from the stands. 

 

The following Saturday, exactly a week after Benfica were stunned at the Estadio do Dragao, Porto won on the final day. It meant that Jesus’s side finished runner-up in Portugal. Benfica had missed out on two trophies in one whole week. They had high chances to secure both. By now Jesus was heavily criticised for his part in this tragedy for the club. Benfica though still had one trophy left to compete.

The Portuguese Cup Final eleven days later was Benfica’s chance to end the season on a slightly elevated high. The defeat was once again unthinkable. They started brightly with Gaitan scoring on the half-hour. However, like the previous defeats, Benfica would become undone. With ten minutes left, Vitoria Guimaraes overturned the tie with two goals in three minutes. It was all over. Benfica had not collapsed in just one ‘final’ but three.

Jesus faced mounting pressure. It was Benfica’s first trophyless season since 2008, but the club stuck by their man. The following season they were rewarded with an unprecedented treble. 


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