at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Amsterdam - Losing Eden Hazard because of a hamstring injury represents a huge setback to Chelsea's hopes of beating Benfica in Wednesday's Europa League final, according to former Stamford Bridge favourite Nigel Spackman.
The quicksilver Belgium winger has had an outstanding season for the European champions but he will miss the Amsterdam showdown after being hurt in Saturday's 2-1 Premier League victory at Aston Villa.
“It's a massive blow because the balance of the team is right with Hazard in there,” former Chelsea and Liverpool midfielder Spackman told Reuters in an interview.
“We've seen him this season go past people with his pace, score goals, make goals and he will be a big, big miss for Chelsea.”
The 22-year-old Hazard, signed from French side Lille in June for a fee put at 32 million pounds ($48.82 million) by media reports, has struck 13 goals in his first season with the London club.
Spackman, who made 267 appearances in two spells with Chelsea between 1983-87 and 1992-96, said Hazard's absence for Wednesday's clash with twice European champions Benfica provided a headache for interim manager Rafa Benitez.
“Rafa is likely to have to push Brazilian Ramires further forward to compensate for Hazard's loss,” he explained.
“That will mean Frank Lampard playing alongside David Luiz in the holding roles... and it reduces Rafa's options in the middle of the park.”
Spackman, who also won the English top-flight title with Liverpool in 1988 and was involved in the Merseyside club's shock FA Cup final defeat by Wimbledon in the same year, said former Anfield supremo Benitez was desperate to end his seven-month reign at Chelsea by picking up some silverware.
“The Europa final is all about winning,” said the 52-year-old. “It would mean Rafa could add that trophy to the Champions League he won with Liverpool in 2005 on his CV.
“He would leave Chelsea with another European trophy even though he was never accepted by the fans.”
Benitez has had little backing from the Stamford Bridge faithful since taking over in November from Champions League-winning Roberto Di Matteo, a manager who was idolised by the supporters.
Earlier this week Sven-Goran Eriksson, who had two spells in charge of Benfica, described the Portuguese side as a more technically gifted team than Chelsea.
Spackman, however, took issue with the former England manager.
“When Chelsea have put their strongest team out this season, with Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata in midfield, they've looked absolutely tremendous,” said Spackman.
“I also think that when David Luiz has played in midfield, he too looks comfortable on the ball. All in all Chelsea have played some really good football.
“Fernando Torres has also been playing better in recent weeks. For me, Chelsea are the more gifted of the two teams.
“But I've watched Benfica a couple of times in this season's Europa League. I agree they are a good team and Chelsea have certainly got to make sure they keep an eye on Oscar Cardozo up front.”
Paraguayan Cardozo, 29, has scored eight goals in European competition this season, six in the Europa League and two in the Champions League, plus 16 in the Portuguese league.