Told that the FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Cardiff was decided by a goalkeeping error, any football fan unaware of the details would doubtless have assumed another calamityon the part of David James. Alas for Wales and his native Finland, the villain of the piece on this occasion was Cardiff's Peter Enckelman, whose failure to collect a low cross eight minutes before half-time led to the only goal, by Portsmouth's semi-final scorer Nwankwo Kanu.
James, faulted for the goals with which he lost Wembley finals for Liverpool and Aston Villa, did his work more confidently this time to collect a winner's medal at the third attempt. As ever he was served splendidly by Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin, the central defenders in front of him, who were given plenty to do in the early and last stages of a game that never quite built on the momentum of the first half-hour.
Like West Bromwich six weeks ago, Cardiff planned to take the game to the Premier League side and worried them in that period with their confident possession. This time, however, Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, was more conservative, employing a five-man midfield, and once in fronthis team were able to play on the counterattack. They were comfortable until a hectic final few minutes in which the Championship upstarts were unable to fashion a lucky break of their own.
So Portsmouth's minimalists, having taken the Cup with five 1-0 wins and one by 2-1, will return to Wembley for the Community Shield against their only Premier League victims, Manchester United, in August and then set out on a European campaign for the first time.
For Cardiff, settled in the middle of the Championship for three successive seasons, the task is to move into serious contention for a place among the big boys; their manager, Dave Jones, would settle more immediately for some money to buy a player. Like many of their nine lower-division predecessors who had reached the final since the Second World War, the Welsh side had achieved little in the League. Although they must have been encouraged by Portsmouth's recent run and, especially, the one goal Redknapp's team had scored in their last eight hours' football. The Welsh following certainly had most to sing about until silenced by Kanu's piece of good fortune.
In the first minute James had to come sprawling from his goal to beat Paul Parry to a long diagonal ball, and 10 minutes later he only denied the same player with an outstretched leg. Almost immediately, the keeper was flat-footed and praying as Campbell headed out a cross towards Peter Whittingham, whose drive was deflected wide by a team-mate.
Unfortunately for Cardiff, their own goalkeeper looked less secure when tested. He escaped from his failure to hold Sulley Muntari's free-kick, and was let off again midway through the first half. Hermann Hreidarsson played Muntari down the left for a cross that Kanu controlled in typically nonchalant fashion, drifting past a defender and Enckelman before jabbing against a post when he should have scored.
Back at the other end in a contest of swift ebb and flow, Roger Johnson met Whittingham's free-kick with a header that was only marginally too high. Eight minutes from half-time, however, Portsmouth were undeservedlyahead. John Utaka, hitherto quiet on the right, cleverly made just sufficient room for himself to bend a cross past the left-back Tony Capaldi; Enckelman spilled it right at the huge feet of Kanu, who had a tap-in, just as in the semi-final. Johnson looked down at his keeper in horror.
Even then there was time before the interval for Cardiff's Kevin McNaughton to prod Parry's low cross wide and for Glenn Loovens, the Dutch defender, to find the net, but only after he had used his elbow to bring the ball down. It now suited Portsmouth with their extra midfielder to play on the break, which they did to good effect at the start of the second half. In a rare move of Premier League class, Niko Kranjcar's back-heel sent Lassana Diarra away down the left for a square cross that Kanu hit against Loovens, appealing in vain for handball.
Jones blinked first when it came to substitutions, withdrawing Whittingham to send on one of the youngest-ever Cup finalists in Aaron Ramsey, at 17 years and 144 days, and Steve Thompson soon followed in place of a tiring, ineffective Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Redknapp replaced Utaka with David Nugent, but put him down the right instead of his more natural role through the middle. That suggested Portsmouth were happy with what they had. Cardiff's best hope seemed to be from a set-piece, though Ports-mouth's height in defence meant they were not as vulnerable as most to Capaldi's long throw. Loovens managed a header late on but the ball bounced down and up over the bar.
Wembley man-for-man marking, by Ronald Atkin
4 Peter Enckelman The Finn, on loan from Blackburn, literally had a punchy game, some timely, others decidedly not, and his spilling of John Utaka's cross was responsible for the goalwhich denied Cardiff their hopes of the Cup.
6 Kevin McNaughton The prematurely greyingright-back, known as the Silver Fox, lived up his his reputation as Cardiff's most consistent player and he kept going gallantly, even when reduced to a limp nearthe end.
7 Glenn Loovens The Dutch centre-back, who was solid in defence for most of the time, can be deemed unlucky to have his excellent scoring shot disallowed in first-half stoppage timewhen the ball struck his arm before he shot for goal.
7 Roger Johnson The scorer of one of the goals which put paid to Middlesbrough, he almost showed Portsmouth how it was done too, with a couple of fine headers from free-kicks.
6 Tony Capaldi The Norwegian-born Irish international, renowned for his throwing skill, brought a few moments of anxiety in Portsmouth's defence with long-range hurling and was solid in the Cardiff back line.
4 Peter Whittingham The former England Under-21 man is acknowledged as the most technically accomplished player on Cardiff's books but it justdidn't happen for him here, as he was crowded out by Portsmouth's numbers in midfield and replaced after an hour.
6Gavin Rae The ex-Dundee and Rangers midfielder could not disrupt Portsmouth's command of the midfield, hard though he laboured.
6 Stephen McPhail The captain, used to battling hard when with Leeds, gave another full 90 minutes of effort and was the pick of Cardiff's midfield, even after taking a nasty blow in the mouth.
5 Joe Ledley The scoring hero of the semi-final win over Barnsley was singled out for special treatment and it put him out of his normal, confident stride.
8 Paul Parry Cardiff's joint top scorer proved a regular threat to Pompey's ageing central defence with his searing pace but could not quite add a further, crucial goal.
4 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Spent most of his time wide on the left flank, contributing little, falling over regularly and looking his age – he is 36 years old – before being assigned the benching whichwas overdue.
6 Dave Jones The honour of being the first English manager since Joe Royle in 1995 to lift the Cup went instead to Redknapp, but Jones can only be happy with getting to Wembley. His previous best in the FA Cup was a quarter-final.
5 Aaron Ramsey (61 min) The course of the game was established by the time he came on and there was little he attempted which changed things.
5 Stephen Thompson (70 min) Little opportunity to influence anything, as Portsmouth were in command by the timehe arrived.
6 David James Reliably howler-prone on the big occasions – errors cost his teams (Liverpool and Aston Villa) in two previous Cup finals – he got away with it yesterday when a mispunch left Glenn Loovens to curl in his disallowed goal just beforehalf-time. Little to worry about after that, though.
6 Glen Johnson Always eager, sometimes over-eager, to get upfield but spoiled much hard work by conceding too manyfree-kicks unnecessarily.
6 Sol Campbell At 33, clearly less than fully match-fit after nearly a month out injured, and his lack of pace was regularly exposed by Paul Parry'sacceleration, especially in thefirst half. But got his act together better subsequently.
7 Sylvain Distin Portsmouth players' Player of the Season lived up to that title. Was always on hand to lend Campbell support during Cardiff's spells of supremacy, and the central duo were in command of thingsafter half-time.
6 Hermann Hreidarsson The Icelander, at 33, laboured a little at times and was booked for dissent when he need not have been, but he proved a vital part of the Pompey defensive barrier.
6 Pedro Mendes Perhaps a surprising choice, he was deputed to patrol in front of the back four and did a decent job of it before giving way after 77 minutes to Papa Bouba Diop.
5 John Utaka The Nigerian enjoyed few opportunities to unveil his blistering speed but he takes credit for the cross from which Kanu scored the winner. A leg strain forced him off after68 minutes.
6 Sulley Muntari The Ghanaian had a comparatively quiet Wembley, just once going close with his left foot, but he had done his bit for the cause with that penalty up at Old Trafford in the sixth round.
7 Lassana Diarra In his "Makelele with pace" role he proved as hard to dispossess as ever, but his passing lacked its normal bite and he picked up a silly booking in added time.
6 Nico Kranjcar A little muted after an early second-half yellow card, the Croatian found it easier to get through the England defence at Wembley last year than he did here.
8 Nwankwo Kanu The long-legged Nigerian veteran with the perma-smile did it again. After hitting the post early on, he was there to poke the only goal when the chance was spilled to him, and until David Nugent joined him up front with 20 minutes left he excelled as the lone striker.
7 Harry Redknapp It has been a mixed year for Redknapp, with police investigations and a family death, so he deserved this. As David James said at the end," 'Arry's a legend, ain't he?" His substitutions were spot-on, too.
5 David Nugent (68 min) Hardly one of Redknapp's successes, he almost surprised everyone with an angled shot soon after coming on which demanded a fine save.
Also came on: Papa Bouba Diop (78) for Mendes; Milan Baros (87) for Kanu.