By Mark Duckworth of The National Game
This Saturday will see the traditional end to the English League football season, when Chelsea take on Portsmouth in the FA Cup final. It will be the 129th final of the oldest domestic football cup which held its first final back in 1872 at the Kennington oval.
A lot has changed since 1872, but the excitement and tradition still haven’t gone away, and when Portsmouth and Chelsea walk out under the Wembley arch, the football world will be waiting with expectation.
Unfortunately for the FA Cup, it’s the unmet expectation that has damaged the famous competition over the years, especially with the last few finals, which have been of a poorer standard than some of its earlier rounds, and the increasingly popular Champions’ League.
Hoping to breathe back new life into the cup (and themselves) on Saturday is Portsmouth. The south coast club have had a horrible season, with relegation and administration, the result of some disastrous board and ownership decisions. In fact, it was two years ago when Portsmouth last won the FA Cup, when all their troubles started. The win guaranteed European football, something the club was not prepared for, either off or on the field. In the seasons that followed that triumphant match at Wembley, the club has gone backwards, but now on the stage where all the troubles began, the club has a chance to write a few wrongs and at least put a smile on the faces of those fans that have been through hell. The club cannot make the same mistakes as last time because it has been blocked by the FA and UEFA from entering Europe. If that had been the case two years ago, then Pompey may be still a Premier League club.
So can Pompey repeat what they did two years ago? The honest answer is no, but this is the FA Cup and its finals have a habit of upsetting the supposed favorite. If Pompey are going to win then they will need their star players playing at their best, and that will undoubtedly mean David James having one of those games. But James will need some help from his supporting cast and this will include the charismatic Jamie’o’Hara, the on loan Spurs midfielder has a double stress fracture and will have a fitness test, but knowing the Irishman it will take a lot more than that to keep him out of a Wembley Cup final. Portsmouth will also need to score and I feel this is where they struggle the most, they have struggled all season in league and cup for goals. But when, Piquionne, and Dindane strut their stuff on Wembley’s pitch, hopefully they will be wearing their scoring boots.
Chelsea go into the FA Cup final in the best possible way, after hammering Wigan 8-0 and becoming the Premier League Champions for the first time in three years they now go in search of becoming only the tenth side to win the league and cup double. There is also another side twist with Ashley Cole aiming to become the most successful FA Cup player by winning the trophy five times.
Chelsea may have had it easy last Sunday when they strolled to victory over sorry Wigan, but Drogba and co. should have a tougher game here. And Chelsea will have to be at their best to make sure they don’t become another famous FA Cup upset. And that means Didier Drogba being in goal scoring form and not his other sulky mood. Last weekend we saw both sides of the brilliant striker and Saturday could be a real character test for a striker that has settled in England. Lampard may not have reacted on the outside to Drogba’s behavior, but it will be interesting to see the reactions of both these men if a similar situation occurs at Wembley.
The Cup final will also be a test for Petr Cech, Chelsea’s number one has had tough season with injury and loss of form and with the areal threat that Pompey may cause, Chelsea’s defence may be in for a long day. Also looking to shake off the injury bug and return to form is English winger Joe Cole, like Cech he has had a tough season with injuries, but his last few performances have been more like the old Cole, and with him out of contract in the summer and a World Cup place up for grabs he will be playing for than a winners medal.
So the stage is set for the 129th FA Cup final, only time will tell if the Cup still has that old magic left in it, or will Wembley’s pitch rear its head to take all the headlines.
Mark Duckworth writes for The National Game. His column on the FA Cup appears here courtesy of The National Game.