24 April 2006

FA Cup Finals Set

The FA Cup final is set now. The semifinals saw Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool on Saturday and Boro 0-1 West Ham on Sunday. I'm pleased for both teams. I was never going to be excited about a potential Double for Chelsea. They might get there eventually, but every year it's postponed adds to its value. Liverpool on the other hand have had a good solid year and played some attractive soccer along the way, so a bit of hardware would be well deserved.

I can't comment on that match without mentioning Jose Mourinho's whiny comments afterwards. Mourinho's already the runaway leader for Poor Loser of the Year, so it's no surprise. Not for the first time, he said, "Did the best team win today? I don't think so."

Here's a hint, Jose. The best team is the one that scores more goals. You lost; come to grips with that fact. Creating excuses for your team won't help.

Instead of Chelsea it will be West Ham that represent London. Despite Wigan gaining all the attention, West Ham have been just as impressive following promotion. They've always been up for a game, and did particularly well against Arsenal this year, drawing 0-0 at Upton Park and winning 2-3 at Highbury. The Hammers, like Wigan, came to the Prem looking not just to survive but to thrive. It's great to see that they've done so while also putting together a run to the FA Cup finals. Good on them. Even better, the win guarantees them an entry to the UEFA Cup next season, as Liverpool are already qualified for the Champions' League.

I am a bit sad for Middlesboro though. The thought of a bottom-half team like Middlesboro winning an unlikely double of the FA Cup and UEFA Cup had a good bit of charm, but that dream is gone. They're out of the FA Cup and on the knife edge in the UEFA Cup. Steaua Bucuresti have a 1-0 lead from the first leg of their tie, and so Boro have work to do back at the Riverside on Thursday. I'd hate to see all their dreams end this week. So best of luck to you, Boro! Get a couple of goals Thursday!

But for the FA Cup it's Liverpool and West Ham. Liverpool are the obvious favorites there and deservedly so. They've met once this season, back on 29 October at Anfield, where Liverpool walked out 2-0 winners. Of course, that leaves the reverse fixture still to come, this Wednesday at Upton Park. Both teams still have outside shots at improving their position -- Liverpool are 6 points behind Man Utd for second, while West Ham have four teams within 6 points themselves. But this match will clearly be an opportunity to prepare for the cup final, and I'm sure that neither manager will show every card in their deck.

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