Football: Zola sorcery dazzles Dons

Chelsea 3 Wimbledon 0 M Hughes 43, 90 Zola 64 Attendance: 32,674
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The marble halls of Highbury echoed to the excited babble of foreign voices yesterday as Chelsea's polyglot side celebrated success in the all-London FA Cup semi-final.

It is said that defeat is an orphan while victory has many fathers and so it proved. In defeat Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, had no words of blame, only praise for his players whose wonderful season now looks like ending in disappointment.

In the other dressing-room were several who could claim to be behind Chelsea's win. The goals came from Wales and Italy, Mark Hughes scoring twice and Gianfranco Zola once. But their glory was only possible because of the brain and bravery of a Frenchman, Franck Leboeuf, and two Norwegians, Erland Johnsen and Frode Grodas, who stood up to Wimbledon's aerial bombardment without a quiver. Then there was the author of the success, the Dutchman, Ruud Gullit, whose pre-match plans were beautifully realised.

To match Wimbledon's power Gullit changed his defence from the customary three-plus-wing-backs to a flat back four and staffed it with big men. It cost Chelsea width but, with Zola in outstanding form, they still had ample attacking variation. The scoreline may have flattered Chelsea but not the result.

So a Chelsea campaign which began with great promise when Gullit was appointed coach, then was blighted by the death of Matthew Harding, will end at Wembley with Middlesbrough or the Second Division's Chesterfield standing between them and their first major trophy since 1971.

"It is a fitting tribute to Matthew, but it is also a tribute to the fans and to Ken Bates, the chairman," said Gullit, who then scotched suggestions that he was thinking of leaving the club to manage Feyenoord.

The possibility arose because of an interview he gave to Dutch television, but Gullit said yesterday: "They asked if I was going to be the successor to Arie Haan. Feyenoord is my club and I may go there in the future but not at this moment. I have another year on my contract and don't want to leave for at least a couple of years. There is a lot to do here. I am still learning and still enjoying it."

Gullit also said Mark Hughes had signed a one-year extension on his contract which would take him up to 1999. Hughes said this was not quite true, he would prefer longer and had still to discuss it with his wife, but would probably agree. "I did myself some favours today," he added.

Just a few. Quite apart from his goals his bruising contribution underlined that Chelsea were not going to let Wimbledon's more muscular game put them off their passing.

Wimbledon's outlook seemed to be outlined after 10 seconds when Neil Ardley clattered into Steve Clarke and was booked. The old Wimbledon might have carried on like that but, though physical, they were not. Their play was just like the old Wimbledon but Chelsea, with Leboeuf outstanding, refused to buckle. They won enough of the headers and almost all the second ball.

A scrappy start gradually gave way to Chelsea control with Hughes, Dennis Wise and Zola testing Neil Sullivan before Robbie Earle's 38th-minute overhead kick brought Grodas into play.

Five minutes later, Zola released Wise on the overlap and his low cross was forced in by Hughes after the Welshman had blocked Alan Kimble's clearance.

Chelsea continued to look the better side and, 19 minutes into the second period, went two up. When Roberto Di Matteo played the ball in to Zola, it did not seem too dangerous but a stunning bit of Sardinian sorcery left Dean Blackwell stranded and Zola clear on goal.

Wimbledon ran and chased but they lacked imagination. Mental and physical exhaustion has taken its toll. What they did not need deserve was a third, Hughes scoring in injury-time after a long ball had skimmed off Chris Perry's head.

Gullit, who had sat motionless when Zola scored, now leaped to his feet. He and Gianluca Vialli, who seemed genuinely delighted, embraced at the end. For Wimbledon there was only disappointment.

"Chelsea deserved to win but I'm proud of what we have achieved," Kinnear said. "I thanked all the players for what they have given me this season and tried to get over to them that it is not over. Now we have to give it a blast and try and creep into sixth place and Europe. It is going to be very difficult."

The face of Zola, who with Di Matteo and possibly his Middlesbrough compatriots will be the first Italians to play in an FA Cup final, lit up at the mention of Wembley.

"I like Wembley. When I left after playing against England I promised myself I would come back. The atmosphere was unbelievable. I hope to make the same performance," he said.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Grodas; Sinclair, Johnsen, Leboeuf, Clarke; Burley, Newton, Di Matteo, Wise; Zola, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Vialli, Minto, Colgan (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Ardley (Holdsworth, 62), Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen; Ekoku, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Fear, McAllister.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Booked: Chelsea: Zola. Wimbledon: Ardley.

Man of the match: Leboeuf.