Surviving an 11th-hour blitz by a desperate Liverpool side, Chelsea managed to escape Wembley with the most coveted prize in all of English soccer on Saturday: the F.A. Cup.
Ramires and Didier Drogba scored for Chelsea, which captured its fourth F.A. Cup in six years, a 2-1 triumph. Second-half substitute Andy Carroll tallied in the 64th minute for Liverpool, which certainly made it an intriguing final half hour.
Winning the Cup certainly was an amazing achievement, indeed, for the English Premier League team considering only weeks ago, Chelsea had reached the nadir of what was once a promising season. On March 4, manager Andre Villas-Boas was giving his walking papers after the team slumped to a 3-1 loss at Napoli in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
His assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, was named caretaker manager and the Italian and former Chelsea standout managed to revive the team. Since then, it seems that everything Di Matteo and Chelsea has touched has turned to goal or gold. On Saturday, they handled some silver as in the F.A. Cup that was awarded to the team for the seventh time in its history.
As well as Chelsea has played recently, there is still one more prize and piece of silverware to bring home: Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in the lion's den in Bayern, Munich two weeks time.
The Blues were deserved winners at Wembley, picking their chances carefully and taking them well.
Ramires gave the London-based side the lead in the 11th minute as Spanish midfielder Juan Mata found his streaking Brazilian teammate on a counterattack. Ramires found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Pepe Reina and he finished to the near right post, surprising the veteran Spaniard.
Drogba then scored a much-needed insurance goal in the 52nd minute. Frank Lampard found the Ivory Coast international well on the right flank and Drogba eventually drilled a shot past Martin Skrtel to the far right post to become the first player to score in four separate F.A. Cup finals.
The question here is where was Liverpool and its attack for the first hour? With nothing much more to play for this season, you would have expected the Reds to put everything into this match.
It took a second-half substitute, Carroll, to give the match a much-needed edge midway through the second half. Nine minutes after coming on for John Spearing, Carroll produced some nifty moves on Chelsea captain and defender John Terry in the penalty area and fired a shot over goalkeeper Peter Cech and into the roof that closed the gap to 2-1.
It meant for an exciting, if not controversial finish, as Liverpool, behind Carroll, continued to press for the equalizer.
The Reds thought they had it in the 82nd minute when Carroll headed a point-blank shot that Cech managed to get a hand on before it crossed the goal line. The ball hit the crossbar and bounded down before defender Branislav Ivanovic cleared it out of harm's way. Carroll celebrated his alleged goal, but it was not to be as an assistant referee ruled that the ball did not entirely cross the goal line.
Uruguayan international Luis Suarez pleaded with the sideline official that it had gone in, but the only thing Suarez was awarded was a yellow card.
One more question: Just when will Roman Abramovich please name Di Matteo permanent manager?
What, in heaven's name, does the Di Matteo exactly have to do to get promoted from caretaker to fulltime status at Chelsea?
It looks as though it will take winning the elusive Champions League crown, Abramovich's true object of desire since the Russian oil baron bought the club nine years ago. If Chelsea does indeed take another victory lap on May 19, the Blues would become only the second English team to pull off that rare double.
The first team to accomplish that feat? Why, Manchester United in 1999.
If Chelsea could duplicate that accomplishment, it would put Chelsea in rarefied company and give Abramovich little recourse but to anoint Di Matteo full-time manager.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.
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