Football’s oldest club competition, the Football Association Cup, will be decided this Saturday night between recently crowned champions Chelsea FC and a relegated & broke Portsmouth at Wembley Stadium, London.
The teams – on paper – are polar opposites – Chelsea having just won their fourth league title on the final day of the Barclays Premier League with an 8-0 rout of Wigan, and Portsmouth, a club forced to enter administration (as they neared bankruptc) and ultimately relegated to the second division.
Yet, while it may sound cliché, the magic of the FA Cup still exists. Portsmouth, at the time already condemned to the Championship, overcame a quality Tottenham side (that eventually finished fourth in the league) in the semi-finals. Few would have predicted fallen giant Leeds’ stunning victory away to arch-rivals Manchester United, followed by their gritty 2-2 draw at White Heart Lane that earned them a replay against Tottenham; as well as lowly Stoke City’s replay victory over nuevo riche Manchester City. Upsets, moments of class and brilliance, stunning goals; the FA Cup can have it all.
This weekend will mark the second consecutive May Wembley appearance for Chelsea, who overcame the fastest ever FA Cup final goal (just 30 seconds) from Everton’s Louis Saha to win 2-1 courtesy of a stunning left-footed Frank Lampard strike. The West London club has enjoyed a successful first season under Italian manager Carlo Ancelloti, who is arguably the man able to fill the void left after the departure of ‘the special one’ – José Mourinho – in 2007. Chelsea performed admirably in the UEFA Champions League – knocked out by eventual finalists Inter Milan – and boast the league’s top goal scorer in Dider Drogba, who will be expected to lead the attack against Portsmouth.
Captain John Terry, a figure of intense scrutiny and controversy this year after the scandal involving himself and the ex-girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge, has been solid at the back for the majority of the season, and will be looking to further cement his place in England Coach Fabio Capello’s back four this June at the World Cup in South Africa with a Wembley win. Chelsea will turn to Frank Lampard and German captain Michael Ballack for inspiration in the middle of the park, while Florent Malouda will surely hope to replicate his man of the match performance of last season’s cup-final victory.
While Portsmouth have been decidedly poor in the league this year – both on and off the pitch – the FA Cup has given many of their players a chance to shine and effectively ‘window shop’ themselves; as many will have to be sold in the off-season to ease the south-coast club’s debt, which is estimated to be around 120 million pounds. This led to the club being placed under a transfer embargo by the Football Association (FA) after they failed to pay their players wages for two consecutive months in late 2009.
To make matters worse, the beleaguered club were denied a place in the lucrative Europa League next season – a prize for the winner of the FA Cup; which Portsmouth should be granted automatically due to the Champions League qualification of Chelsea, yet was refused by the FA due to the club’s financial disarray.
39 year-old England goalkeeper David James will Captain the side for what is possibly his last appearance for Pompy, and will most likely be playing for at least one more season at a top flight club – transfer permitting. Young attacking-midfielder Jamie O’Hara (on loan from Tottenham) should provide a spark in the final third, and will look to link-up with centre forward Fredrick Piquonne; who’s goal in extra time booked their place in the final. Manager Avram Grant will be looking to mastermind a major upset over his old club, and akin to his players, his immediate career could be riding on this match.
Pride, rather than much money, is the true prize of the FA Cup. The £1,800,000 winner’s cheque will hardly affect the seemingly limitless funds of Chelsea, and would do little to ease the financial constraints of Portsmouth. Yet the oldest club cup-competition is held by many fans as the dearest to their hearts: the one to win.
In the end, Chelsea will probably lift the trophy. They probably should win, and complete ‘the double’. They have been outstanding this season where Portsmouth have been poor; yet anything can happen on the day, and maybe, just maybe, the little club from the south of England can surprise us all.