x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The final word belongs to Didier Drogba

Phenomenal is an overused word. Not when it is applied to the Chelsea striker, a player for the biggest of occasions.

Chelsea striker Didider Drogba became the first player to score in four FA Cup finals with his second-half goal against Liverpool.
Chelsea striker Didider Drogba became the first player to score in four FA Cup finals with his second-half goal against Liverpool.

Phenomenal is an overused word. Not when it is applied to Didier Drogba. Simply send this man out on Wembley Stadium turf and wait for the reward. The goal is guaranteed, the only question is what it will win you.

Yesterday, for a barely credible fourth time in six years, it was an FA Cup. If it is to be the centre forward's last in a Chelsea shirt it will be remembered as a thing of beauty. Seven minutes into the second half, his team an early Ramires goal to the good, Drogba was presented with the ball in the Liverpool penalty box for the first time in this final.

Frank Lampard's run and pass from midfield was characteristically intelligent, yet Drogba was still faced with Martin Skrtel and precious little angle on goal.

No matter. He shifted the centre-back off balance, made a few centimetres of room on his left foot then exploded the ball into the far corner. Cue "Drogbacite" dancing.

Selecting an FA Cup final finisher is a task well suited to Roberto Di Matteo. A decade and a half before both he and his assistant, Eddie Newton, had scored in one for Chelsea. The Italian's spectacular finish after 42 seconds was the quickest at the old Wembley; his decider three years later the stadium's last before a rebuild.

In Drogba he had a forward with the same appreciation of the grand occasion.

The Ivorian re-entered the new Wembley bearing a record of seven goals in his seven competitive appearances there, with three deciding FA Cup finals for Chelsea. Throw in League Cups and Drogba had already scored in all of his six English finals.

"In difficulty he expresses himself," said Di Matteo ahead of the game. Adding to the sense of expectation was the knowledge Drogba's contract was in its last weeks; this final likely to be exactly that.

Smart enough not to attempt to start an ill-matched pair in any of his 17 games as interim first-team coach, Di Matteo's alternative was Fernando Torres, a player his deft management had reinvigorated. The same regime of one-to-one conversations employed with every member of a fractious squad had built confidence and trust in Torres.

Delivering more goals in two months with Di Matteo than he had managed in over a year under Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas, the £50 million (Dh296m) man also had an argument to start against a former club. Yet in a team of four changes, Drogba was the choice to head Chelsea's 4-2-3-1.

It is sheer physical presence that initiates problems for his opponents. Drogba is remarkably mobile for a 1.89m, 90kg striker, dropping off two concerned central defenders in Skrtel and Daniel Agger here, then reappearing in midfield or either wing.

When Ramires accelerated beyond Jose Enrique to score Chelsea's opener, Agger was too tight to Drogba to get back and make the covering tackle.

Headers are consistently won, and any sort of space near goal invites shots of invention, velocity or both. In the very first minute the African attempted to better Pepe Reina with an over-the-shoulder volley from 20 yards. Later he would almost catch out the keeper with a slicing drive from near twice that distance.

His goal was coming, and there might have been another before Liverpool began their comeback. Even in injury Drogba made a particular contribution, dousing the heat from a long period of opposition pressure as he received treatment for a stretched groin muscle.

At full-time, Drogba stripped off his shirt and stood bouncing and saluting his Chelsea support. "This one and the first one against Manchester United were the hardest cup finals to play," Drogba said. "Liverpool is a difficult team to play and today we made a great result."

Courtesy of one of the greatest cup final footballers.


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