Chelsea's Eden Hazard out of Europa League final
AMSTERDAM (AP) -Chelsea will face Benfica in Wednesday's Europa League final without Eden Hazard after the gifted Belgium playmaker failed to recover in time from a hamstring injury.
By comparison, Benfica only has to deal with hurt pride after it lost the Portuguese league lead to archrival FC Porto last weekend.
If anything, Hazard's absence will diminish Chelsea's favoritism in a clash between two of European football's most famous clubs.
After winning the Champions League title last year, Chelsea became the first holder to get knocked out in the group stage the following season, and goalkeeper Petr Cech said "that deception drove us through the campaign to get here.''
One of the world's wealthiest clubs now has to hope hoisting UEFA's second most important club trophy will ease the pain of a disappointing season for the London club.
The season, said Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, "will be defined by how we get on tomorrow. You cannot have it your own way every year.''
John Terry and Hazard picked up injuries Sunday in Chelsea's Premier League win over Aston Villa, but the captain could still be fit for the game, coach Rafa Benitez said.
"We will try and see how he feels,'' said the coach, who will leave the club at the end of the season.
For Hazard, though, the match came too soon. The Belgian limped off in stoppage time of the Villa game favoring his hamstring. Hazard is steadily turning into Chelsea's most creative player, and his speed and passing skills will be sorely missed against Benfica.
"Hazard will not be available,'' said Benitez, noting hamstrings are usually slow to heal.
Coach Jorge Jesus insisted the bad feelings from the weekend game had already evaporated and all the focus is on Benfica's biggest match in 23 years.
"A Portuguese league game has nothing to do with the final of the Europa League,'' Jesus said.
In an almost symbolic gesture, Jesus fell to his knees when Porto scored in injury time last weekend for a 2-1 come-from-behind victory. On top of the setback, it has also been increasingly evident that the Lisbon-based players are showing the wear of a draining season which, like Chelsea, included a group-stage exit from the Champions League.
But just the chance of holding a European cup aloft is putting the fire back in players.
`'We are feeling the adrenaline, butterflies in our stomachs, because it is such an important match,'' said defender Luisao.
Chelsea comes into the final on an eight-match unbeaten run and has a number of defensive options who can fill in for Terry - including Brazil international David Luiz, who transferred from Benfica two years ago.
Terry underwent a fitness test during Chelsea's evening training session at Amsterdam ArenA, home of Ajax, and was jogging slowly with just a physiotherapist for company. But there appeared to be no limping due to the ankle he injured.
For Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, his concerns have more to do with mental damage than physical.
Benfica's heyday was in the 1960s when it reached five European Champions' Cup finals. The last one it won, in 1962 against Real Madrid, was in Amsterdam.
It has lost six finals on the trot since then, the last one in 1990, meaning it has gone 23 years without a final.
By comparison, Chelsea's taste of victory is still fresh, having beaten Bayern Munich on penalties in last year's Champions League final.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed to this story.
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