May 30th, 2009
04:26 PM ET

The magic of the FA Cup lives on

WEMBLEY, England - The expectant walk up Wembley Way. A sea of blue. Goosebumps on the neck as "Abide with Me" rings round the stadium. 

The magic of the FA Cup lives on and in prospect a David v Goliath clash which reflects the new realities of football.

Everton, fifth in the Premier League, take on Chelsea, just two places above them, but worlds apart in terms of resources and expectation.

Everton so short of players mid-season that they play for a while without a recognized striker with the invaluable Tim Cahill filling in admirably.

Chelsea, who could afford to leave Didier Drogba sulking on the sidelines until the arrival of Guus Hiddink re-energized the team.

Both he and Nicolas Anelka set to form a formidable partnership up front as Chelsea bid to shrug off the disappointments of losing out so narrowly to Barcelona in the Champions League, no disgrace there on reflection.

Everton chasing a first trophy under David Moyes and so deservedly in the final having beaten Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United on the way to the Wembley showpiece.

It's not quite second-flight Sunderland upsetting all-conquering but unloved Leeds in 1973, or Wimbledon's Crazy Gang coming out on top against Liverpool, but an Everton victory would be still be against the odds.

The club's chiefs could not be more different. Everton's Bill Kenwright a theatrical impressario with a shrewd eye for a hit, in this case Moyes. Chelsea's Roman Abramovich a Russian billionaire with a ruthless streak who has dispatched Mourinho, Grant and Scolari and temporarily settled on Hiddink.

FA Cup victory for Abramovich would represent a morsel of consolation, for Kenwright it would be a full scale banquet.

But the FA Cup is no respecter of reputations and when the underdogs scored after just 25 seconds through Louis Saha's emphatic volley it was clear that Chelsea would have to work for their victory. 

The noise from the Everton fans reached a crescendo, but before long they were silenced as Florent Malouda crossed for Drogba to head home.

Poor Tony Hibbert was suffering from twisted blood syndrome on the left as he tried to cope with Malouda and was unceremoniously hauled off at half time to be replaced by little-known Dane Lars Jacobsen.

But the Chelsea second half substitution spelt out the gulf in quality in the two squads as German captain Michael Ballack replaced Ghana powerhouse Michael Essien.

Saha might have put the Toffees ahead for the second time but his header was over and soon afterwards Frank Lampard drove the winner past Tim Howard.

Malouda, who I thought should have been man of the match ahead of Ashley Cole, could have finished the game off with two more close efforts, the second possibly crossing the line off the underside of the crossbar (further proof if any needed for TV cameras to decide these close calls).

It was impossible not to feel sympathy for Everton and their fanatical fans, but Hiddink has worked his magic again, inspiring an underperforming big-name squad to step up to the plate.

It was no surprise that the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the Dutchman as he lifted the trophy.

What price Abramovich making him an offer he can't refuse to stay on at Stamford Bridge next season ?

While for teams like Everton, the FA Cup offers the best hope of silverware, aka Portsmouth in 2008, and that's why it's such a favorite with supporters and the players too, who for all their mega salaries and inflated egos just want to get their hands on a piece of history.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. michael igagha

    Chelsea sure deserved this after a great season. Congrats blues (the real blues). Next season will be surely greater.

    May 30, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Reply
  2. Liam White

    The real blues here were Everton... A club with an amazing history & calibre... Only an Brit(a true supporter of our game) can understand that Everton are far & away a bigger club than Chelsea in terms of everything... Trophy's, fans, history & overall class!! This is from a life long Tottenham fan, who like Everton laugh at Chelsea & there Pound notes!! Chelsea's fall from grace when Roman leaves will be brilliant for all in England!!

    June 1, 2009 at 9:50 am | Reply

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