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The New Wembley – FA Cup Finals Ranked

The new Wembley had arguably lacked a classic FA Cup moment before Ben Watson’s injury time header for Wigan a few Saturdays ago. However, in this retrospective ranking of the new Wembley’s FA Cup finals, I hope to reveal some more interesting moments looking back which escaped the eye of football fans the first time around.

7th. 2007- Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United

                The new Wembley certainly looked impressive and finally ready for its delayed return to hosting the FA Cup final when these two juggernauts of post-millennia football took to the green, green grass of footballs home. However, with Mourinho desperate to get some silverware on the board after a season without a Premier League title and Ferguson after another double, the game turned into a tight affair without the tension that often saves tactically sound finals.  For all of Mourinho’s incredible press banter, he introduced a style of football which although tactically astute, was low on high scoring games.

The game produced very little opportunities for both sides with the most notable before the goal being Ryan Giggs sliding into Petr Cech after he had saved his shot and claiming the ball had crossed the line. Replays showed the ball had crossed the lines but not from the initial Giggs shot and only after he had slid into Cech. The Mourinho tactically astute formula worked again as Didier Drogba poked the ball past Edwin Van Der Sar with only 5 minutes of extra time remaining to steal the cup after 115 minutes of stalemate. The new Wembley looked incredible, but it hadn’t been given the start to its FA Cup final history that the football world was hoping for.

6th. 2008- Cardiff 0-1 Portsmouth

                The next year unfortunately did not deliver anything much better. It gets a higher ranking on the list simply for the excitement of a championship side making the final. The 2008 FA Cup had been characterised by shocks, particularly provided by Barnsley as they knocked out Liverpool and holders, Chelsea. However, their path to Wembley was halted by Cardiff in the semi-final in a game where quarter-final winner Kayode Odejayi missed a glorious chance to equalise. There was a genuine belief that Cardiff might break the Premier League stronghold on the trophy, but in the end Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Premier League experience failed to make an impact on the game. Kanu hooked in a tap in after an error from Peter Enckelman (not the first time). The victory celebrations from Portsmouth were more interesting than the games itself at a time where they seemed a settled and financially secure Premier League club. Football is a cruel mistress.

5th Manchester City 1-0 Stoke City

A battle of footballing philosophies took place in the 2011 cup final. City were desperate to prove themselves as football’s new financial superpower, especially after defeating neighbours United in the semi, whilst Stoke wanted to answer their critics by proving that their style of play was a match for the slick passing of Mancini’s cosmopolitans. City were dominant throughout the match despite both teams creating very little, until Yaya Toure crashed home a close range effort past Sorensen to give the new Manchester City owners their first trophy. City marginally deserved the victory over a lacklustre Stoke side, but apart from Toure’s crashing effort there were few memories to take away from this final.

4th. 2010- Chelsea 1-0 Portsmouth

                A slightly improved 1-0 score line comes in at number 4. Chelsea had stormed to the Premier League title scoring at will, whilst Portsmouth had entered administration and were to play in the Championship just two years after one of the clubs greatest triumphs. The match had the potential for another giant killing final and almost made good on its promise. Chelsea had somehow managed to hit the woodwork 4 times in the first half without scoring including a howler from Salomon Kalou who contrived to hit the crossbar with the goal gaping. Cech had also saved brilliant from Piquionne in an exciting yet scoreless first half. Chelsea’s luck really did seem to have run out when Belletti fouled Dindane in the area, but Cech came to the rescue again by saving an awfully weak penalty from Kevin Prince-Boateng. Just 2 minutes later Chelsea hit the woodwork again, but this time Drogba’s incredible free kick came off the inside of the post and rifled past James. Lampard had a rare penalty miss before this exciting and topsy- turvy cup final came to an end giving Chelsea their first double in the clubs history. A sprinkling of magic, but not a classic.

3. 2012- Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool

                 Roberto Di Matteo had a chance at an improbable double and Kenny Dalglish had to somehow salvage his Liverpool managerial career despite a League Cup triumph in this intriguing and ultimately above average cup final. Chelsea literally raced away in search of a 4th FA Cup triumph since the return of the cup to Wembley as Ramires galloped down the field from a Mata pass and scored in the 11th minute with a strange effort that Reina somehow failed to keep from going in the net.  Chelsea doubled their lead as Wembley wonder man Didier Drogba scored his 4th goal in 4 finals to give Chelsea a deserved and somewhat straight forward advantage. It was with the introduction of Andy Carroll that this final really came to life. Firstly, the Liverpool striker latched onto a loose ball provided by the persistence of Downing and fired high into the net after effective if not elegant trickery.

Then, the vital moment and yet another example of why goal line technology in next year’s Premier League season will be so welcome. Carroll headed an inviting cross which Cech did brilliantly to palm onto the underside of the bar, but the debate raged as to whether the ball was already over the line. The referee was uncertain and even the multiple angles given by television failed to give a decent account of the ball’s final position.  Liverpool, with a sense of injustice weighing heavily on their minds created little more and Chelsea won their 4th FA Cup at the New Wembley. The drama of the cup had returned fleetingly to raise one of the key issues in the contemporary game.

2. 2013- Manchester City 0-1 Wigan

                No such controversies were present in the cup final this year. It narrowly misses out on the number one spot because of the lack of quality present within the match itself. However, the crucial decision which had marred the validity of Chelsea’s win the previous year did not re-appear. Wigan simply deserved this.  Manchester City created little apart from a chance for Carlos Tevez which was saved brilliantly by the legs of Joel.  The performance of Callum McManaman, a villain just a few weeks previously due his horror tackle in Wigan’s game against Newcastle turned into a young starlet on the biggest possible platform.  It was one of McManaman’s fearless runs into the heart of the City defence which caused Pablo Zabaleta to horribly mistime a challenge. Zabaleta was sent off for a 2nd bookable offence becoming only the 3rd player ever to be sent off in a cup final. City had been embarrassed by Wigan’s fearlessness and style and were now embarrassing themselves. The ultimate embarrassment came into stoppage time where the depleted City squad failed to pick up substitute Ben Watson who rose majestically to create a defining FA Cup moment. The game had had little action, but Watson’s header meant the FA Cup final was given the upset that the footballing world had waited for since the 1988 Wimbledon crazy gang. The New Crazy gang of McManaman, Kone, Watson and Scharner had brought life back to the underdog.

1.       2009- Chelsea 2-1 Everton

A game played with the competitiveness and sportsman like attitude for which the FA Cup was founded and a match certainly more riveting than the first two New Wembley damp squibs. Louis Saha created a magical FA Cup moment within 25 seconds of the start of the match by scoring the fastest ever FA Cup final goal, surpassing (quite ironically) Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo in the process. This was cancelled out quickly (although not so quickly in the context) by Didier Drogba’s emphatic header for the Blues. Drogba and Chelsea’s quest for Wembley domination was back on track. Another Chelsea veteran Frank Lampard put the Blues ahead with a typical long ranger, even slipping before he hit a shot which Tim Howard only managed to divert into the net. 

Another goal line technology debate was thrown into the scintillating contest when Florent Malouda’s ambitious effort came down off the underside of the bar and over the line. However, the officials without the benefit of the replay failed to give a goal and the score remained at 2-1. Chelsea had won the cup on a sunny afternoon and inside a raucous Wembley stadium befitting of the traditions of the competition.  This final narrowly squeezes out the 2013 final because of the better quality of football during the game even if the underdogs failed to secure the victory. All hail fair and exciting football, all marvel at the slow progress of the introduction of goal line technology.