The Chelsea Power Show

FA Cup Final: The game's up for Middlesbrough inside a minute as Di Mat teo shoots into Wembley history.
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The Independent Online
EARLY to rise and late to fall upon wounded, pitiable prey, Chelsea secured their first major trophy for 26 years at Wembley yesterday. The fastest goal in FA Cup final history at the stadium, scored spectacularly by Roberto di Matteo after just 43 seconds, set them on their way, Eddie Newton secured the spoils. Italian initiative, English endeavour; it was fithng reflection on a day of overseas influence and domestic tradition.

Poor Middlesbrough. Relegated from the Premiership, beaten now in both major cup finals, they have only pounds 26m worth of memories for daring to dream of flying close to the sun. Too close. Now comes the paying of the price, with the especially admirab le Juninho, 31-goal Fabrizio Ravanelli, participant for only 22 minutes yesterday, and Emerson - less painfully, after his ineffective charging around yesterday - all likely to leave. Breaking up will be hard to do.

Chelsea, meanwhile, will seek to cement their success. Under the enlightened eye of Ruud Gullit, who becomes the first foreign coach to lift an English trophy, they have built on Glenn Hoddle's modernisation programme. An excihng era should await them. Here was it all on view. At the back, Franck Leboeuf was a commanding stopper and elegant instigator of play while, in midfield, man-of-the-match Di Matteo emphasised his blossoming after taking time to bed in. Up front, Mark Hughes, who is now the only player this century with four FA Cup winner's medals, won most of what came his way and the willo' the wisp Gianfranco Zola provided moments of sublime sorcery, even if not as many as Wembley might have desired.

Above all, Chelsea had a change of pace when it mattered, though their failing in a match that rarely hit hoped-for heights was a curious reluctance to be ruthless towards a team of individuals of widely disparate abilities who could only cling on plucki ly when outplayed for long periods as Chelsea largely controlled possession.

Perhaps the weather had something to do with their lassitude. The day was sultry and Wembley dripped with sweat. With so much Brazilian and Italian attacking talent on view - and, it has to be added, two of the most porous Premiership defences - we sough t inspiration and largely saw perspiration. "It was very hot. We had to play it professionally and wait for the right moment," said Gullit, whom the Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson sought to sign two years ago. Bryan Robson could only hold up his han ds. "We didn't perform parhcularly well," said the Middlesbrough manager. "We got well beaten in the end."

But what a start. Middlesbrough kicked off and straightaway advanced at Chelsea. Then when Robbie Mustoe failed to control a short pass from Juninho midway inside Chelsea's half, Dennis Wise nipped in to rob the Boro midfielder and a slick pass infield f ound Di Matteo 10 yards inside his own half. Ahead of him, the Red Sea parted and when no challenge came as he brought the ball forward, he tried his luck from 25 yards. Nothing lucky about it, as it turned out. Ben Roberts, questionably off his line, gr oped thin air as the ball sailed over him and in off the underside of the bar.

Up in the stands sat Concetta, the blind sister of Chelsea's pounds 5m record signing from Lazio. The roars from the Chelsea half of the stadium told her all she needed to know about the bolt from this Blue and no doubt her brother would relate later the vivid detail that needed no embelishment to tell of its quality and dr ama. "It must have been a great feeling for her," he was to say. "It was so emotional for me."

More adversity for Boro arrived before the game was a quarter old. Stretching for a through ball from Juninho that Frank Sinclair cut out, Ravanelli tweaked his hamstring again and was immediately replaced by Mikkel Beck, slow of thought and an inadequat e replacement. Five minutes later, the honest toiler Mustoe pulled up and was replaced by Steve Vickers.

With Juninho forced deeper to seek possession, Chelsea closing down his threat in pairs rather than man-marking, Boro were barely an attacking force and they could have been two down by half-hme. Wise pierced the defence with a ball to Scott Minto, who a lmost forced it through Roberts' legs, and Phil Stamp had to intervene. On the right, Di Matteo found Dan Petrescu and his lob was cleared under the crossbar by the lionhearted Nigel Pearson.

Soon after, up stepped Zola with his first significant contribuhon, a wickedly curling 30 yard free-kick that Roberts turned aside at his left post. Boro did have the ball in the net just before the break, Festa powering in a header from Stamp's cross, b ut an offside flag was raised. Their sense of injustice was fuelled; their fans had jeered the FA officials who docked them those crucial three points, as they shook the hands of the teams.

After the interval came more gestures, but too few and lacking penetration. Festa stabbed just wide after Leboeuf had miscontrolled, Vickers shot straight at Frode Grodas when well placed and Beck, clearly offside, headed home. Otherwise, it seemed a que stion of if and when Chelsea might stir themselves to seal the match.

Zola did his best, dribbling past Vlckers, Clayton Blackmore and Vickers again then firing a shot at the near post, before the deed was done. Newton found Petrescu and his chip to the far post was delicately turned back by Zola to give Newton the simple task of turning home.

No sentiment from Chelsea finally for Boro, though some for their own. On came Gianluca Vialli for two minutes, replacing a smiling Zola. "I'm thinking of Matthew Harding," said Gullit later of the benefactor killed in a helicopter crash during thisseas on. "This is also for him."

The neutral could only spare a thought for Juninho and Boro, deserved as Chelsea's victory was. Red eyes on a Blue day.