x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Drogba delivers the double

The Ivorian striker scores again at Wembley to make Chelsea the seventh English club to do the league and FA Cup double.

Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper, saves the penalty kick of Kevin-Prince Boateng at Wembley Stadium.
Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper, saves the penalty kick of Kevin-Prince Boateng at Wembley Stadium.

LONDON // Cavorting around in the London sunshine with a trophy is becoming a weekly habit for Chelsea. Six days after winning the Premier League, they made it a double with the FA Cup. Their domestic dominance is complete. These are glorious times for Carlo Ancelotti and his side. With a surfeit of silverware, they struck gold again, albeit only after hitting wood rather more often than was comforting. Post and bar thwarted them five times in an eventful first half, but Chelsea were not to be denied.

"A fantastic year," said Ancelotti. "Everyone did a fantastic job." Yet a match that was utterly one-sided was nonetheless determined by two men, at either end of the pitch, within the space of four minutes; first Petr Cech produced a penalty save to stop Kevin-Prince Boateng, then a winner followed from, inevitably, Didier Drogba. Frustration had been Chelsea's abiding emotion in front of goal but cometh the hour, cometh the man: technically this was the 59th minute, but Drogba has always been the impatient sort. More significantly, he has always flourished at Wembley. His curled free-kick made it a sixth successive game in which he has scored on the hallowed turf; it is English football's home but the Ivorian appears to have a timeshare.

Perhaps it appeals to his ego, perhaps to his sense of occasion; whichever, Chelsea have cause to be grateful. Drogba has played in three FA Cup finals and scored in them all. On an afternoon of near-misses, he provided the ruthlessness that others lacked. Even Frank Lampard, normally similarly single-minded, was culpable, dragging a late penalty wide. But, having struck seven times against Stoke and eight against Wigan in their three previous matches, Chelsea had the opportunity to ensure another rout.

"It was strange to hit the post [and bar] five times in one half," said Ancelotti. "That has never happened before in my career. It was also strange to concede a penalty. That was the key moment because if Portsmouth went 1-0 up it was more difficult for us. But Didier finished the season how he started it, scoring a lot of goals. He played with creativity all year and he has scored important goals."

It was as well he did. For 45 minutes Portsmouth preserved parity, seemingly without knowing how. Chelsea's efforts, hitting either post or bar, were first admirable, then embarrassing and, increasingly, exasperating. Yet it was an FA Cup final that began as the last one ended, with a demonstration of Lampard's prowess at shooting from distance. An effort, struck with dip from fully 30 yards, clipped the top of the post.

It was a commendable effort. Sadly for Salomon Kalou, his was rather more comical. He contrived to lift his shot on to the bar when Ashley Cole's cross had presented him with an open goal. Then Florent Malouda, who had instigated that move, proved the quality of his supply line again with a free-kick that John Terry headed on to the bar. The infamous five was completed by a different sort of double from Drogba: first a free-kick that, via David James's fingertips, went on to the bar and the goal-line and then away, plus a close-range poked shot.

"I think we deserved more," said Avram Grant, the Portsmouth manager. It was a questionable claim but, amid an exercise in superiority from the newly-crowned champions, the relegated side should have led. Following a surge forward from Steve Finnan, Aruna Dindane went down under Juliano Belletti's challenge. Boateng's penalty was tame, saved by a sprawling Cech with his legs. He joins a select band of goalkeepers, consisting of Dave Beasant and Mark Crossley, who have saved from 12 yards in FA Cup finals; Ashley Cole, meanwhile, became the first man to win six; yet, as ever, Drogba catapulted himself into the spotlight. It has been the story of Chelsea's season, and it has been their season.

sports@thenational.ae