LONDON.(AFP) – Chelsea reached the Europa League final for the first time in their history after surviving a first-half scare to defeat Swiss champions FC Basel 3-1 in the second leg of their semi-final on Thursday.
Leading 2-1 from last week’s first leg in Switzerland, Chelsea risked elimination after Mohamed Salah’s well-taken goal in first-half injury time put the visitors 1-0 up on the night.
But goals from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses and a David Luiz stunner early in the second half gave last season’s Champions League winners a 5-2 aggregate victory that sets up a meeting with Benfica in the final on May 15.
It was a case of third time lucky for Chelsea, who lost in the semi-finals in both the League Cup and the FA Cup, while Basel fell short in their attempt to become the first Swiss team to reach a major European final.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez will now look to end a testing season by claiming the second Europa League title of his career after his 2004 success with Valencia, although his immediate priority is to secure a return to the Champions League via the league.
Basel captain Marco Streller passed a late fitness to start at Stamford Bridge and he almost made an immediate impression, shooting wide from a good position in the first minute.
Chelsea’s fans had just taken to serenading former coach Jose Mourinho, who has been linked with a return to the club this week, when the hosts’ first chance arrived in the ninth minute.
Torres’ clipped pass freed Frank Lampard, but his shot came back off the post, leaving the England midfielder one goal behind Bobby Tambling in the club’s all-time scoring chart on 201 goals.
Streller then came close to claiming an outrageous goal at the other end with a volley from a prohibitive angle that flashed wide, before Ramires could only poke the ball at visiting goalkeeper Yann Sommer from Moses’ low cross.
Basel continued to attack gamely, and after being thwarted once by Petr Cech, Salah broke the deadlock in stoppage time when he calmly swept home from Valentin Stocker’s cleverly disguised through ball.
The Egyptian’s strike left Basel one goal from the final, but Chelsea reasserted their grip on the tie with a rapid three-goal salvo in the first 14 minutes of the second half.
Torres claimed the first, in the 49th minute. After a driving run from Eden Hazard, Lampard’s low shot was pushed out by Sommer and Torres slid in to slam the loose ball into the roof of the goal.
Moses put Chelsea ahead three minutes later with another finish from close range, this time after Torres’ low shot was deflected into his path.
Luiz saved the best for last just before the hour, stepping up to Lampard’s lay-off and curling a majestic left-foot shot right into the top-left corner from 25 yards.
Basel’s response saw Fabian Frei hit the bar with a deflected shot, while Marcelo Diaz also tested Cech with an effort from distance, but for Chelsea, the worst had already passed.
Chelsea might even have amplified their lead further in the dying stages, but Sommer saved well from substitute Juan Mata and Torres.