UEFA Europa League 2013: Chelsea Must Shut Down Oscar Cardozo to Win Final

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2013

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 02:  Oscar Cardozo celebrates his winning goal for Benfica during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between SL Benfica and Fenerbahce SK at the Estadio da Luz on May 2, 2013 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Oscar Cardozo holds the key to Benfica winning its first European title since 1962. It's up to Chelsea to stop him from unlocking the door.

Cardozo had a fantastic game against Fenerbahce in the second leg of the semifinal to send the Portuguese club through to the final. He had two goals, including the critical third that gave Benfica the 3-2 aggregate win.

His performance illustrated exactly why he's so dangerous. For the most part, Joseph Yobo and Egemen Korkmaz did a good job of corralling the Paraguayan striker. There were two major lapses, though, where Cardozo found himself with space and the ball inside the 18-yard-box. He finished both opportunities. On the second, Yobo was really caught ball-watching, as he let Cardozo slip away.

It's not as if Cardozo is an unknown quantity. The 29-year-old has scored 104 goals in his 156 Primeira Liga appearances, 17 goals in 27 Europa League matches and 10 goals in 24 Champions League matches.

He's been one of the most consistent strikers in the world. It's a surprise he's stayed at Benfica this long.

This final pits both Ramires and David Luiz against their former club. The pair has gone on to quite a bit of success, with Luiz in particular emerging as one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League this season.

Considering how Cardozo prowls the penalty area, it will be up to Luiz to shackle his former teammate. He's no stranger to the talent Cardozo possesses. The pair has faced off on the training pitch hundreds of times. Of course, Cardozo will also know exactly how to outplay Luiz in the box and create space for himself.

Scoring could be kept to a premium in the final.

Chelsea has a wealth of attacking talent. But trying to earn a Champions League place in the end-of-season run-in will leave the squad fatigued by the time the final kicks off on May 15. You can be a world-class athlete and still manage to get tired at the end of the season. Just look at how Barcelona struggled against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinal.

Even the best attacking players in the world can be marginalized if they're off the pace.

Plus, Benfica's defense has been very strong all season. It has only surrendered 16 goals in 27 league matches and 12 goals in 14 European matches. Its back four has been very strong this season. The club will be looking to keep the scoreline as low as possible.

Should that happen, it will only take one goal from Cardozo to make the difference. His lethal finishing means that any momentary lapse by Luiz, Gary Cahill or John Terry could mean Petr Cech picking the ball out of his own net.