Chelsea have completed a magnificent double today by winning the 2010 FA Cup Final against Portsmouth 1-0 at Wembley.
The match, dominated by Chelsea, was one of the most eventful FA Cup Finals in history, and finished much closer than many would have expected before kick off.
The Londoners, despite enjoying starting today’s match as 1-10 favourites, would have to wait a nervy 56 minutes before Didier Drogba, their top scorer this season, scored with a well placed direct free-kick which went in off the far post from around 25 yards.
Chelsea hit the Portsmouth woodwork a remarkable five times in the first half of absorbing football which ended 0-0.
Chelsea’s first clatter of the crossbar came when Frank Lampard let fly from 28 yards with a swerving, dipping effort on around 10 minutes after Chelsea had begun to take control of possession following a traditionally nervous opening 5 or 6 minutes from both teams. The shot curled away from David James’ outstretched hand and clipped the angle of crossbar and post on its way out.
Then came Portsmouth’s best chance of the half when good work down the right flank by Dindane ended with a nice cross to Kevin Prince-Boateng, who hit a volley that was heading just wide. The shot went towards Frederic Piquionne at pace, and all the Portsmouth striker had to do was direct it goalwards, with Peter Cech on his near post for the initial volley. The centre forward got the touch, but it wasn’t clean, and the ball bounced towards Cech’s side of the goal, where the Chelsea keeper made a great reaction save.
Next up Soloman Kalou would provide one of the most spectacular misses in FA Cup Final history. Ashley Cole was released down the left flank by a Lampard long ball before cutting in past South African captain Mokoena and playing a ball which missed out goalkeeper James’ dive. Kalou was unmarked just two or three yards from the totally open goal. He shinned it into the crossbar, and the ball bounced clean away.
Mokoena had perhaps deserved a lucky break, however, after literally throwing himself – twice – at Didier Drogba when the big Chelsea forward looked all but certain to score minutes earlier.
Soon after, it was Chelsea captain Terry’s turn to hit the bar as he leapt high to head towards the far post only to see his header drop onto the woodwork.
Drogba then lined up a free kick after having allowed Lampard and Alex to try their luck – both players struck the wall with their set pieces – and he smashed the ball with venom towards the top left hand corner of the Portsmouth goal.
David James, at 39 years old the oldest player ever to appear in an FA Cup Final, dived quickly to his right and diverted the ball around a foot from its original path, onto the underside of the bar. The ball bounced straight down onto the line and away to safety. To the naked eye it looked a goal, indeed, Didier Drogba celebrated one, but the linesman remained unmoved while the ball went out for a corner.
The replay confirmed the linesman’s dead-eye – the ball did not cross the line – James had made one of the best saves in Cup Final history.
Kevin Prince-Boateng was to become the key figure in this game, and his lunge at Chelsea’s Michael Ballack would end the German’s match as a nasty looking tackle saw the newly approved Ghanain footballer booked – he might have been sent off had the referee been afforded a look at the replay – for a studs up lunge that saw Ballack limp, eventually, from the field to be replaced by Juliano Belletti.
Drogba would be denied by the frame of the goal again, this time by a post after ghosting through to James’ near post approaching the end of the half, though the goalkeeper looked to have narrowed the angle sufficiently.
There had been many chances for Chelsea, and only one for Portsmouth in the first 45 minutes, but at 0-0, the South Coast side were still in the running for the FA Cup that would salvage their disastrous season.
In the second half, Portsmouth began perhaps the brighter of the two sides, before the fatal two and a half minutes that were to turn the game in Chelsea’s favour came.
On 55 minutes, Portsmouth, not having penetrated Chelsea’s tight rearguard on more than one occasion all match broke through via Dindane – Portsmouth’s most threatening player today – down the right hand side of the box. As the player skinned Juliano Belletti on the by-line, the Brazilian stuck out a leg and felled Dindane. There was no need to dive: the Frenchman’s legs were pulled from under him. Penalty.
This was Portsmouth’s chance. This was what happens when you hit the woodwork five times in the first half of FA Cup Finals. Boateng stepped up looking pretty confident. Petr Cech, in his bright yellow shirt, with his trademark headgear, loomed large. Boateng’s nerve broke and he scuffed an awful looking penalty straight down the middle of the goal that Cech was able to boot clear despite having dived for his right post.
Boateng collapsed to the ground and had to be literally picked up by his shirt: he knew what had just passed Portsmouth by.
Boateng’s agony was confirmed within a couple of minutes as Chelsea headed straight down the other end and Drogba won a free kick 25 yards out. David James set up a four man wall, but Drogba, who had earned the right to take another pop at goal with his blistering effort in the first half, spotted a gap.
He placed the ball – at pace – round the wall, between two men, and into the inside of James’ post. The keeper took one fatal step to his right which meant his dive could not tip the ball away before it rattled into the net on the sixth time of coming into contact with the frame of his goal.
Drogba was ecstatic. The Chelsea crowd elated. Portsmouth began to wilt, though their fans, as ever this season, continued their chants to the last.
Portsmouth’s manager, Avram Grant, took a couple of throws of the dice, bringing on Kanu and Belhadj as well as replacing Boateng, who had played a game he won’t be able to forget, with John Utaka.
Belhadj would prove to be the biggest threat of the substitutes as he twice played pinpoint crosses into the box that just needed a touch, though Dindane and Utaka couldn’t manage to get the required contact.
It was Chelsea who would have the chance to seal the match, and get the larger advantage their first half dominance perhaps deserved when Lampard burst into the box and was felled by two Portsmouth players – the, as ever, combative Brown one of the culprits – for a clear penalty.
Lampard gathered the ball to take the spot kick with his England colleague David James whispering into his ear. Whatever it was James said, England will hope he repeats it in this summer’s World Cup if a penalty shootout arrives as Lampard – usually so reliable from pens – missed the target altogether with a tired looking shot which he dragged wide of the bottom left corner.
Soon after, the referee’s final whistle sounded before Chelsea lifted their second trophy in six days.
It is worth noting that the officials today had played their part in this fantastic final: making big penalty calls when required, and getting them right; calling the close ball on the line, and getting it right; and not succumbing to any dives. If anything, the referee and his assistants showed today everything that is good about English officiating: they allowed hard, fair challenges, but penalised any clear foul play, and calmed down reckless challenges with accurate use of the yellow card in this biggest of matches.
Tears fell around the Portsmouth team who knew this would be the last time most of them played together – maybe it would be the last time they play in a major final, too, and Avram Grant summed up their season when he said, with a tear in his eye, simply “the supporters are the best.”
The team spirit from a group of players who have hardly been paid this season was their for all to see, as they stood together in a tight group having come so close to ending their season on an unlikely high.
Chelsea, however, are worthy champs, and they could have won today by four or five clear goals, such was their superiority. Ashley Cole, playing in his sixth FA Cup Final – another record – and Man of the Match Didier Drogba were their star men today. Drogba looked particularly mature, unusually, in helping those players around him in this Cup Final.
This is the best team in England, as the Premier League and FA Cup results will now attest – and it is their togetherness, fostered by Ancelotti, their coach, but ensured by the transfer ban they picked up last year which meant that this squad has stayed unaltered for longer than in previous seasons.
Chelsea are a well-oiled machine with a ruthless, confident man up front in Drogba. If they can add one good midfield stopper – and they have one waiting in the wings, in Michael Essien – and perhaps a replacement centre forward with an eye for goal, Chelsea will be a threat in all competitions for a few seasons to come.
Today Chelsea are kings, after winning a fantastic league and cup double in two of the most competitive competitions in club football and, after playing some great attacking football all season – and in today’s FA Cup Final – few fans of football will be able to say, hand-on-heart, that they don’t deserve it.