Football: Chelsea inspired on Vialli's night

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1 Chelsea win 4-2 on aggregate

FOR FOURTEEN minutes last night Gianluca Vialli found out what management was all about. Then Graham Poll finally blew the final whistle on last night's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final second leg and he was in fantasyland again.

Vialli had left the field to a standing ovation with 10 minutes of normal time remaining and Chelsea Wembley-bound. They had a 4-2 aggregate lead over an Arsenal side reduced to ten men by the dismissal of Patrick Vieira.

Then Dennis Bergkamp won and converted a penalty and Vialli, who had been all-action on the field, was reduced to helplessly biting his nails, watching and waiting as his team sought to hang on.

Chelsea, who had overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit through well-taken goals from Mark Hughes, Roberto Di Matteo and Dan Petrescu, survived.

As their celebrating fans then filed out, talking excitedly of a Wembley date against Middlesbrough on 29 March, "I'm a Believer" came over the public address. It was not just the Monkees who were converted - the fans had seen a vivid demonstration of Vialli's tactical and motivational powers.

Vialli, who treated his team to a glass of champagne in the dressing room beforehand, said: "The players were fantastic. I am very proud of them."

Arsene Wenger was less intoxicated by a game whose nine bookings took the total, in four meetings between the sides, to 26 yellow and two red cards. "The previous games between us have been really vicious, this was worse," he said. "Vieira was unlucky. One of their players should have been sent off inside 10 minutes."

He meant Hughes who, having seen the Queen to collect his MBE in the morning, had been booked after three fouls in the opening three minutes. Six minutes later he scored with a low 15-yard shot on the turn from Di Matteo's pass. "It's been a good day," he said.

Chelsea were still 1-0 up when Vieira was dismissed, for his second yellow card, after 48 minutes and Wenger added: "They dominated before the sending off but were not really dangerous. The goal was a lucky rebound."

Chelsea scored twice within the next five minutes. In a tie of very few chances their finishing was exceptional. Three minutes after Vieira's second premature exit this season Di Matteo scored a goal reminiscent of his FA Cup final strike - against Middlesbrough - picking up the ball in central midfield and advancing to thump home from 25 yards. Next was Petrescu, showing great composure as he twice feigned to shoot before scoring with the outside of his right boot.

Vialli did not score but he did everything else, guarding the near post at corners, tracking back and tackling, looking dangerous in attack and contributing to the opening goal. It was a stirring example which was copied by a team which looked hungrier than for weeks.

His first team had Hughes as its focal point and himself and Gianfranco Zola playing wide and deeper. For Arsenal Bergkamp played with a strapped calf. He won his penalty when Michael Duberry handled while trying to tackle him but looked short of pace. Arsenal also lost Ray Parlour to a hamstring strain but it is the loss of a place at Wembley that will hurt most this morning. Both these sides fielded near-reserve teams when this competition began but the passion of players and fans alike showed that it mattered.

Though gone, the recently sacked Ruud Gullit was not entirely forgotten. Ken Bates' latest contribution to the affair was his programme column in which he said there were "no coups, no conspiracies, no player revolts, no clash of egos, just an irreconcilable difference of opinion on roles and values."

The chairman also said: "Ruud goes with my personal best wishes. We never had a cross word. His parting words were 'Please give my love to Suzannah - we must stay friends, this world is a very small one'." He reiterated the dispute was over money and Gullit's role as player-manager.

But the final word went to Vialli. "I envy Ruud because he was so calm. I hope I can now get some sleep, I hope I can get used to it or I will have a heart attack. I don't want to think about football 24 hours a day."

Chelsea (4-3-1-2): De Goey; Duberry, Clarke, Lebouef, Le Saux; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Wise; Zola; Vialli (Newton, 80) M Hughes. Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Flo.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Grimandi, Adams, Winterburn (S Hughes, 71); Parlour (Platt, 44), Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Anelka, Bergkamp. Substitute not used: Lukic (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).