Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past fortnight, you are likely to know that this year’s F.A. Cup semi-finals took place at Wembley over the weekend. The draw had served up two derby matches, pitting rivals from Merseyside and London against each other at the home of English football, Wembley Stadium. The games lived up to their billing, each was played with pace and intensity, and each produced goals, drama and more than a little controversy; here is a round-up of the action.
Saturday April 14th, the eve of the 23rd Anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, and Liverpool would face Everton at Wembley for the first time since the 1989 F.A. Cup final, just weeks after that terrible afternoon in Sheffield. Although it was 96 Liverpool fans who perished at Hillsborough, the tragic events of that day affected the whole city, Red and Blue, so it was fitting that the two should meet again at Wembley 23 years later to pay their respects, and do battle on the pitch in memory of those who never returned home that night. Prior to kick-off, a minute of silence was requested in honour of the dead and their loved ones, it was impeccably observed by both sets of supporters.
Liverpool started the game on the front foot, and had an early chance, Jay Spearing steering his shot just over from the edge of the box. A few minutes later, Tim Howard had to be on hand to stop Martin Skrtel’s goal-bound effort, the American stopper dealt with it comfortably enough. Everton worked their way into the game, and Jelavic’s improvised overhead effort was easily caught by Jones, with Baines’ 25 yard free-kick too high to trouble the Australian.
Everton took the lead out of nothing; indecision in the Liverpool backline resulted in Jamie Carragher smashing his attempted clearance off Tim Cahill, the ball fell kindly for Nikica Jelavic, and the in-form striker finished sweetly (24). It was a poor goal for Liverpool to concede, but replays heavily suggested that Jelavic had been in an offside position, something the referee’s assistant had missed.
Straight after half-time, Stewart Downing, who’d switched wings with Jordan Henderson, made a burst down the right and got to the by-line, chipping-up an inch perfect cross for Andy Carroll who was arriving at the back post. The Geordie striker timed his run and leap perfectly, but inexplicably missed the target, putting his header wide of Howard’s right post when it seemed easier to score.
It was Liverpool’s other front-man, Luis Suarez, who got the Anfield club back into the game. Jonny Heitinga had played the Uruguayan well in the first-half, but after the break, Suarez pulled right, and stuck to Sylvain Distin. Isolated against Suarez in the 62nd minute, the French defender turned to play the ball back to Howard, however, he mishit the back-pass and Suarez was in. Advancing on goal, with only the goalkeeper to beat, he bent a shot into the far corner with the outside of his right foot.
Having scored the goal, Liverpool were in the ascendency, and Andy Carroll almost put them in front in the 77th minute, but his left foot shot flew just wide of Howard’s left post. Three minutes from time, Steven Gerrard was caught by Seamus Colman on the left; Craig Bellamy’s whipped delivery was right into the danger zone, and this time Carroll got up to meet it perfectly, guiding his header beyond Howard and into the back of the net.
Cue wild celebrations amongst the Liverpool fans, as they sensed certain victory. In fact, it could have gotten worse for the Toffees before the end; Suarez again breaking free down the right played a low cross to Maxi, but the Argentine, uncharacteristically for him, failed to score, guiding his effort onto the base of the post. Final score Liverpool 2-1 Everton, dejection for Moyes and the Blue half of Merseyside, delight for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool as they booked themselves a place in their second final of the season.
Chelsea took on Tottenham Hotspur in an all London affair on Sunday evening. A minute of silence was again asked for, in memory of the victims of Hillsborough, and was for the most part well observed, save for a small but significant number of Chelsea fans, who caused a disturbance. This is not the first time this season that Chelsea fans have been involved in unsavoury behaviour such as this, and I would hope that the F.A. will take action against the club for the sickening actions of some of their supporters.
After an opening half an hour or so of cagey, probing football from either side, it was Spurs who began to take the initiative. Rafael van der Vaart had a good chance to put them in front, however his header was blocked on the line by John Terry, with Cech beaten. Shortly afterwards, van der Vaart’s in-swinging left-footed cross, came back off the post after Adebayor failed to make any contact, when free in the centre. The Togolese striker really should have done better, had he gotten a touch, Tottenham would have been in front.
As so often with Spurs when they’re up against the “big guns”, their failure to capitalise on their chances when on top, was severely punished. Two minutes before the break, Didier Drogba, who’d been fairly quiet, isolated Gallas on the edge of the area, backed in slightly, then rolled the centre-half, got away from him, and smashed a left-foot strike that flew into the back of the net, giving Cudicini no chance.
Four minutes into the second-half came the most controversial moment of the weekend; after a dramatic goal-mouth scramble involving Juan Mata, Ledley King, John Terry and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the latter having appeared to have blocked the former’s shot on the line, Martin Atkinson awarded Chelsea their second goal. The ball did not cross the line, how the referee made the decision is beyond me, and most of the footballing world; his assistant had no view, so could not give the goal, and Atkinson himself could not have had a clear view, however despite the huge protests from the Tottenham players and staff, including Harry Redknapp, the goal stood.
The award stunned Spurs and their fans, but they were given some hope when Adebayor was taken down by Cech, and Bale profited from the loose ball to make it 1-2 (56). Had Bale stopped play and appealed instead of tucking it home, Cech could well have been sent off and Tottenham would have had a penalty, a situation which would have helped them more in my opinion, but that is by the by now.
Tottenham pushed forward, and were well in the game for twenty minutes or so, until, in the 77th minute, Ramires burst through for Chelsea, picking up the ball from Mata’s pass, and beat Cudicini to make it 1-3. That goal finished Spurs off as a fighting force, and more demoralisation was to follow for the North London club.
Frank Lampard’s powerful free-kick flew passed Cudicini from 30 yards (81), and in the 90th minute Florent Malouda put the icing on the cake/rubbed salt in the wounds, depending on which way you look at it, by making it five. Final score: Tottenham 1-5 Chelsea, Chelsea book a meeting with Liverpool on May 5th, Tottenham’s season is tailing off badly, but they’ll point to that huge call from Atkinson and feel very hard done by indeed.
F.A. Cup Final
Venue: Wembley stadium
Date: May 5th
Teams: Liverpool vs Chelsea
Chelsea Spurs image by Sarflondondunc. F.A Cup image by Dave Gunn