As the mercury climbs towards 30 degrees centigrade and the British public are basking in late May sunshine, 22 men will be considerably less enamoured with the blistering temperatures, come three o’clock, as the players starting FA Cup Final 2009 for Chelsea and Everton Football Clubs prepare to begin the biggest football match of their season.
This final marks the end of a 2008/09 season which has seen more teams involved in the English competitions than many anticipated even as recently as a month ago: Manchester United were being touted as potential “quintuple” winners.
All of the talks of five tournaments are well and truly dead and buried, not least as United were beaten in Rome by two clear Barcelona goals on Wednesday night, but Everton, in their semi-final against the club, were the first to burst this particular bubble.
The blue half of Merseyside, deserve their place in the final after holding out Man United in that match, and by acting coolly despite missing their first penalty in the shoot-out that eventually brought them through at the hands, or rather foot, of Phil Jagielka.
Chelsea, too, have looked restored under their new – if soon to be replaced – Dutch management. Guus Hiddink, after coming to Chelsea in January to replace Phil Scolari, who never got to terms with the English game, has revived Chelsea’s band of underachieving superstars: Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka look like they want to play, and Michael Ballack has been rekindled under the Dutchman too. Hiddink will be hoping for a major domestic trophy as his legacy of 5 months well spent.
Chelsea are certainly favourites in the bookmakers – at odds-on price of 8/11 with most bookmakers to win the game in 90 minutes – and few will argue with the form they have displayed since Hiddink took charge of the club, finishing strongly in the Barclays Premier League to clinch third place, and an automatic qualification for UEFA Champions League 09/10.
Whatever happens today in the blistering heat of Wembley stadium, there will hopefully be a carnival atmosphere with two teams who are sure to appreciate the opportunity to feature in such a huge game following – in Everton’s case – more than 10 years without a major trophy.
The joy of the cup awaits.