Chelsea walk the line and into final
It was a frantic, fiery, no-holds-barred kind of FA Cup semi-final between two clubs that cannot stand the idea of one another and two teams whose form has dipped and soared this season. Such a pity it will be remembered for a stupid, avoidable goal that should never have stood.
The English FA are pressing ahead faster than anyone in world football when it comes to video technology but it has not come quick enough to prevent Martin Atkinson allowing Juan Mata's goal on 49 minutes yesterday. What can you say about this decision? It was a horror. The ball never crossed the line. In fact, it barely reached the line.
Mata's goal was the second of Chelsea's five, and quite possibly they would have booked a place in the FA Cup final, against Liverpool on May 5, without it. Nevertheless, it was a blight on one of the FA's biggest days and a moment that undermined what should have been a great semi-final.
Spurs cannot catch a break at the moment. They controlled much of the first half and then went behind to a sensational goal from Didier Drogba. Then came the ghost goal. Gareth Bale pulled one back but in the closing stages Harry Redknapp's team collapsed and, first Ramires and then Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda gave the scoreline an embarrassing weight of goals.
If Roberto Di Matteo had Wednesday's game against Barcelona in mind when he picked his Chelsea team yesterday, it hardly showed. Fernando Torres was left on the bench, but then it was always going to be a case of him for one game and Drogba for the other. The inclusion of the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Mata, Ramires and Lampard meant this side had a first XI feel to it.
The Chelsea interim manager had no option but to go for it. Redknapp was seeking to spark some life into a team that has fallen off a cliff of late in terms of league form. In goal, Carlo Cudicini, who has played all Spurs' FA Cup ties this season, was recalled. In the centre of defence, Redknapp decided that Ledley King, despite struggling for form, was still a better option than Ryan Nelsen.
It was his lack of options at centre-half that had given Redknapp most cause to worry, with Younes Kaboul the latest injured absentee. King had been in trouble at times last weekend in the defeat to Norwich City. It was the kind of game which prompts the fears that he may even have gone for good. But he was dusted down and patched up and sent out again yesterday at Wembley.
King looked safer in the first half than he had last weekend. As for Spurs, they were undoubtedly the team on top before the break. They made and missed chances. In Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Luka Modric, they had four players who were the game's most influential figures.
The problem for Spurs in that first half was that they just did not take their opportunities to score. On the Chelsea goalline, John Terry got his knee in the way of Rafael van der Vaart's header on 38 minutes when Lennon recycled Emmanuel Adebayor's cross. A few minutes later Adebayor needed only to brush the ball crossed in from Van der Vaart but instead it carried through and hit Petr Cech's post.
That aside, it was shaping up as a decent first half for Spurs. Lennon looked to be back to his best after that long absence through injury. Bale had left Jose Bosingwa spinning in his slipstream and that meant David Luiz was being dragged across to deal with him. Even so, Luiz was well beaten by Lennon on one occasion.
Chelsea had created the occasional chance, mostly on the counter-attack. Drogba had a decent header from a Salomon Kalou cross. When the 34-year-old finally found his groove he was utterly unstoppable.
Two minutes from the break, Drogba took a long punt from Lampard on his chest with his back to goal. Behind him, William Gallas could not find a way round the Chelsea striker. Drogba took the ball to his weaker left side and in one movement swivelled to face goal and hit a shot inside Cudicini's right post that travelled so fast it was past the goalkeeper before he got properly into his dive.
Chelsea might have scored again after three minutes of the second half. It took an excellent one-handed save from Cudicini to stop Mata's shot after Drogba had pushed the ball into his path in the penalty area.
The controversial second Chelsea goal came from the resultant corner -- and what a mess it was. Cudicini saved the original header from Luiz and the ball was worked to the left side of the area. With a group of players on the line, some on the ground and some standing, Mata hit a shot into the melee. Even later, watching the replays, it was difficult to discern whether the ball had reached the line.
The ball struck Terry, who was on the ground, then Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who was in a sitting position and appeared to clear it away with the sole of one of his boots. The ball came out again and the scramble around the Spurs area continued. Martin Atkinson was not inundated with Chelsea players protesting that the ball had crossed the line. He took his time and then gave the goal.
The linesman could not have had sight of the incident, because there were too many players blocking his view. It was Atkinson's decision and the Spurs players were incensed.
Within seven minutes, Spurs had clawed a goal back. Parker played Adebayor through on goal and, as he went around Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper brought him down. Had Bale not been there to tap in the loose ball it would have been a penalty for Spurs and a red card for Cech. In the build-up to the goal, Luiz pulled up with what looked like a hamstring tear and was replaced by Gary Cahill.
Spurs never got back in it. Ramires was played onside by Kyle Walker and lifted the ball from Mata over Cudicini for the third goal. Lampard scored a brilliant free-kick for the fourth after a desperate foul by Gallas on Drogba. The substitute Malouda scored the last. But it will not be those goals for which this game is remembered for. (© Independent News Service)