Memorable FA Cup final caps incredible English season
London: Mega-rich Chelsea beat impoverished Portsmouth 1-0 to win the FA Cup and claim the Double on Saturday but that was about the only predictable outcome of a remarkable afternoon at Wembley.
Chelsea, who lifted the Premier League title last week with an 8-0 win over Wigan Athletic, were odds-on favourites and some pundits predicted they could beat the record winning Cup final margin of 6-0 set when Bury beat Derby County 107 years ago.
Portsmouth had other ideas and weathered a ferocious onslaught in the first half with plenty of help from the Wembley woodwork which Chelsea hit five times in 30 minutes.
They restricted the champions to a single goal but that was enough for the west London side to lift the FA Cup for the sixth time to retain the trophy they claimed last year.
In a way the twists and turns of the final reflected in 90 minutes the twists and turns of the domestic season, which saw the lead in the title race change more than 20 times before Chelsea pipped Manchester United by a point to become champions.
The winning goal finally came after 59 minutes when Didier Drogba smashed home a free kick from 25 metres that this time hit the post and went in with David James helpless.
The goal came just three minutes after Portsmouth midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, whose yellow boots dazzled in the Wembley sunshine but failed to blind keeper Petr Cech, saw his penalty saved by the Chelsea stopper`s feet.
But the Portsmouth fans, whose club have gone through five owners and an administrator this season, been docked points and suffered relegation with debts of 138 million pounds ($201.2 million), never stopped cheering.
Their cries of "Play Up Pompey" rang around Wembley, drowning the cheers of the Chelsea fans, who became more anxious and withdrawn as the match went on. They could not relax, even after their team had taken the lead.
The stadium was awash with the blue-and-white of both teams but it was the flag-waving Pompey section that became increasingly animated as the absorbing game ebbed and flowed.
As Portsmouth manager Avram Grant said afterwards: "If anyone ever doubts if it is good to buy this club, it is a good club. If you see the fans today, no competition, they won the final by far."
The football was not that great but the tension was tangible as Chelsea edged closer to their first double and Portsmouth tried to salvage some silverware from their most traumatic season.
Chelsea had a chance to wrap it up when their England international Frank Lampard was awarded a penalty with two minutes to go but the occasion even got to the normally unflappable midfielder who scuffed his shot wide.
It was not Chelsea`s most embarrassing moment of the day though -- that belonged to Salomon Kalou who somehow shinned the ball against the bar just four metres from an open goal in the first half, one of the worst misses in any FA Cup final.
On the touchline Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea`s former coach Grant extolled one last effort from their men.
Ultimately Chelsea held out, collected their medals and danced with the Cup as Portsmouth`s players, many if not all of whom had played their last match for the club, cheered their fans then collapsed on the field in dismay.
Grant, Chelsea boss when they lost the Champions League final to Manchester United on penalties two years ago, was widely acclaimed by both sets of fans after the match.
His future is as uncertain as Pompey`s who could yet start next season with a 17-point penalty in the Championship (second division) if they do not come out of administration soon.
On the day, though, balance sheets and finances, tax demands and missed wage payments were far from anyone`s mind.
Although an intriguing final ended in a predictable triumph for the favourites, Portsmouth`s unquenchable spirit should helpt them through the tough times that are still ahead.