Golden boy Drogba puts paid to Pompey dreams
Chelsea have their first double and Portsmouth have nothing but debt. The FA Cup final turned out as predicted at Wembley yesterday but there was nothing predictable about an astonishing game.
On a pitch that was consistently deceptive, each side missed a penalty. Portsmouth, who had kept a clean sheet despite an astonishing first-half onslaught, could have taken the lead when awarded theirs, but Kevin-Prince Boateng took a limp penalty. Frank Lampard missed too but by then Chelsea had the lead and there seemed to be some order back in the world.
But not much. Portsmouth were the story of the season and certainly the FA Cup. "This story is bigger than you can ever imagine," Avram Grant said in an impassioned defence of his players afterwards. "The FA should come and shake every one of the players by the hand and thank them for saving the spirit of the league."
Grant again condemned the refusal of the authorities to allow Portsmouth to play in Europe. "They have shot themselves in the foot. They have shot themselves in the heart."
Chelsea may have claimed the double -- a remarkable achievement for Carlo Ancelotti in his first season -- but Grant saw the failure of Portsmouth to get something of the game as an indicator of a greater injustice. His peroration ended with him talking about love, justice and honour. He wasn't referring to the romance of the cup.
Portsmouth brought meaning to the cup this season. The club is a reluctant metaphor for the debt-laden world from which we have all emerged and their season, while not quite good versus evil or even a tale of redemption, offered the only backstory anyone was going to get in this competition.
Ancelotti ended the day with the pressure already building for next season. Would he now have to win the Champions League, he was asked? "We will try. I am lucky to find a club like this after Milan. I could count at all times on the support of my owners and players. For me, it was not so difficult to manage."
The game began with the sort of predictability nobody wanted but it soon turned into something else. Lampard went close twice, flicking one shot from outside the box just wide before hitting the post with another from 35 yards.
Nicolas Anelka had brought a bit of controversy with his complaint that Grant had misunderstood him while Grant was managing Chelsea. It seemed unfair to single Grant out from a long career of misunderstandings, even if he was an opponent yesterday. But their difficult relationship was no surprise to anyone who remembered Anelka's initial response when asked to take a penalty in Moscow. "That is out of the question."
Portsmouth spent the first half trying to hold out. How they did so would suggest some sort of divine intervention, although a divinity would surely have made sure Pompey got their bills paid.
Chelsea hit the woodwork five times in the first half with Lampard, Salomon Kalou, Drogba, twice, and John Terry all denied. "I've never seen anything like that in my career," Ancelotti said afterwards.
Aaron Mokoena was as important as the woodwork, blocking whenever he could.
Out of the onslaught, Portsmouth found one great chance. A cross from Aruna Dindane went to the back post where Boateng hooked the ball towards goal. Frederic Piquionne might have been offside but he touched the ball towards goal from four yards. It was straight at Petr Cech who stuck out a hand and knocked it away.
Almost immediately the onslaught continued. Malouda found Ashley Cole who did brilliantly on the left, got by Mokoena and picked out Kalou who had a tap-in. He couldn't blame the pitch -- which was predictably rocky -- as he shinned it on to the crossbar as Cole jumped up and down in frustration, not for the first time this year.
Portsmouth were defending as if something good could come of the day. A hefty Boateng challenge took care of Michael Ballack who hobbled off but then, from the free-kick, Didier Drogba hit a tremendous shot over the wall. David James somehow scooped the ball onto the bar and it dropped on the line but despite Drogba's appeals, the linesman correctly said the ball had not crossed the line. Drogba then got the ball past James but it bounced back off the post. Drogba appeared to blame the post, giving it a few belts.
The first half ended dramatically with Mokoena again clearing after Branislav Ivanovic crossed dangerously. Portsmouth returned for the second half still in the game and those who believe the cup still has a connection with its history began to insist that the unbelievable would happen next.
Players were still losing their feet on the pitch and the bounce was unpredictable. The game was even more so.
When Dindane was brought down by Ballack's replacement Juliano Belletti, one of those moments appeared to have arrived.
The penalty was awarded but Boateng hit it weakly down the middle and Cech, despite already diving to his right, was able to save with his foot.
Portsmouth had their chance, Ancelotti said it was "the key moment". Minutes later, Drogba was brought down outside the box. He stood over the ball 25 yards out and to the left of goal and curled a devastating free-kick to James' left beating him at the far post.
Portsmouth kept going but they were now relying on some system malfunction which, on the Wembley pitch, was always possible. There was a group malfunction when a cross from sub Nadir Belhadj deflected off Alex. Aruna Dindane was waiting but the ball came off Terry, who knew nothing about it, and went away for a corner.
When Lampard went down late on another penalty was awarded. He wouldn't make the same mistake as Boateng but instead he missed completely.
Portsmouth were still cursed with hope. The match entered injury-time, Chelsea killed the game and soon the hope, too, was gone. Grant might have been alone in thinking love remained.