Saturday, March 2, 2024

Drogba delights Chelsea


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WEMBLEY – Didier Drogba scored his 37th goal of the season yesterday to give Chelsea a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth in the English FA Cup final and complete the Premier League champions’ first domestic double.

Chelsea hit the frame of the goal five times and Portsmouth missed a penalty before Drogba curled a free-kick in off the post in the 59th minute.

“It’s fantastic we achieved the double. It was difficult to come back and stay focused for this game because last week we celebrated the title,” Drogba said.

“You start to think that you won’t score . . . I saw a little gap. I hit the post again, but it went in this time.”

Salomon Kalou missed an easy chance in the first half, hitting the ball against the crossbar six metres out in front of an open goal.Portsmouth could have gone in front just before Drogba’s goal but Kevin-Prince Boateng’s weak penalty kick was saved by Petr Cech’s legs.

Frank Lampard also missed a late penalty for Chelsea, with the England midfielder dragging the ball wide.

That Portsmouth survived so long without conceding was unexpected.

The 129th final pitted one of English football’s wealthiest clubs – the Roman Abramovich-bankrolled Chelsea – against Portsmouth, who have been relegated from the Premier League and are still fighting for their existence while in bankruptcy protection.

“It’s a day that I am very proud and very sad – proud because we could [have won] the game,” said Portsmouth manager Avram Grant, who is set to leave the club.

“We closed them [down], we played tactically very well, we gave everything.”

Recent routs by Chelsea, who ended the championship-winning league season with an 8-0 thrashing of Wigan, raised fears that it could be the most one-sided final in decades.

Chelsea’s line-up was unchanged from last weekend and took less than four minutes to threaten Portsmouth’s goal.

Lampard shot just wide from the edge of the penalty area, and the England midfielder unleashed a dipping strike that hit the goal frame ten minutes later. But having upset the odds to reach the final, Portsmouth weren’t going to capitulate.

And having survived intense pressure for 20 minutes, they were only prevented from taking a shock lead by Cech’s reflex save. Boateng’s deflected volley reached Frederic Piquionne, but the resulting shot from close range was blocked by Cech.

While fine goalkeeping denied Portsmouth, Chelsea only had dire finishing to blame for not going in front in the 27th. Ashley Cole forced Portsmouth keeper David James to cover the near post before squaring to the unmarked Kalou.

The Ivory Coast forward had an unguarded goal to tap into from close range, but inexplicably lifted the ball against the bar.

Chelsea captain John Terry headed against the bar from Florent Malouda’s free-kick in the 30th, and the goal frame denied Drogba again just before the break. (AP)


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