CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: Manchester City marched into the final of the English FA Cup after a 2:1 victory over holders Chelsea here at Wembley; in the sides’ first meeting in the competition since 1971, City inflicted Chelsea’s first FA Cup defeat in the new Wembley.
Both sides set out attacking formations but it was Samir Nasri who broke the deadlock in the 35th minute when a fortuitous ricochet in the box allowed him to fire the ball past Petr Cech.
Sergio Aguero doubled the lead straight just seconds into the second half. Gareth Barry provided the cross for which the Argentinian headed in off the post.
Fernando Torres came on midway through the second half and his introduction immediately inspired Demba Ba who controlled on the turn and fired past Costel Pantilimon – his fourth goal of the competition. Ba could have got the equaliser minutes later but Pantilimon excellently saved his snap shot.
Chelsea pressed with Torres and Ba leading the line but City held on to claim the win and progress to their second FA Cup final in three years.
Manager Roberto Mancini had said beforehand that winning the FA Cup would alter the perception of City’s season. He had accepted, before and despite last Monday’s victory over league leaders United, that the title defence is all but over.
But City will be massive favourites to defeat Lancashire derby rivals Wigan in the final and, as Mancini said: “It is very important to continue to win trophies.”
In fact for Mancini it is crucial. To secure Champions League football would probably not be enough on its own to keep him in a job but the addition of silverware could be his life raft.
After all, if City win the Cup it would be Mancini’s third major domestic honour in his three full seasons at City.
That might save Mancini but is unlikely to save England defender Joleon Lescott, Argentina striker Carlos Tevez and England midfielder Gareth Barry, all of whom have a year remaining on their contracts.
Final rivals Wigan have been in the league only 35 years and were in the fourth division 10 years ago. Their rise owes much to the management skill of football purist Roberto Martinez but even more to the rock-solid ownership of Dave Whelan.
Saturday’s 2-0 semi-final win over second division Millwall was an emotional day for Whelan. Once a Blackburn fullback, he never played again after his career was cut short by a leg fracture in the FA Cup Final on his original visit to Wembley in 1960.
Unfortunately Wigan’s win was tarnished by the hooligan behaviour of some of Millwall’s notorious fans. Police made 10 arrests after Millwall hooligans, bafflingly, fought among themselves for much of the second half.
As for Chelsea, even in FA Cup defeat they remain in prize-winning contention. Losing at Wembley merely increased the importance for them of winning the Europa League in which they are favourites to beat Basel in the semi-finals.
That, along with securing a top-four spot and thus Champions League football again, would thrill Rafa Benitez. For him a trophy and top-four finish would prove, at least in his own mind, that the fans and owner Roman Abramovich are wrong to want him replaced as soon as the season is over.
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