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By ESPN Staff
Apr 29, 2008

Grant defends Drogba following Rafa jibe

Chelsea boss Avram Grant insists star striker Didier Drogba is not a cheat and accused Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez of playing mind games ahead of their return Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.

Benitez claims to have compiled a four-year dossier of Drogba's 'diving' antics and the striker came in for more criticism following the 1-1 first-leg draw at Anfield.

But Grant is adamant Drogba is not a diver and claims the Liverpool boss was trying to influence the officials ahead of their crucial return leg.

'I don't think he is a diver at all,' insisted Grant.

'He's a good player. He's a powerful player, so the referee needs to look at what happens to him more.

'If you look at the video and see what Jamie Carragher did to him in the first game, you will see the referee was very polite.

'Because he looks so powerful, defenders think there are other ways to stop him.

'I will not speak about the players of Liverpool and what they do. I don't like it when others speak about mine.

'In the first half of the first game, the referee could easily have given a yellow card to Carragher to get him banned for this match.

'It could have been offside for Ryan Babel in the build-up to their goal, even if he was not involved in the goal. I think he (Benitez) is trying to take attention from this.

'Rafa can say whatever he wants to say. I say what I think. Ask him why he's saying that. I think the reason is clear. One way to stop him is to use power more than ever. I think he has tried to affect the referee so he does not do his job.'

While Liverpool had the relative luxury of resting players ahead of on Wednesday's game when they took on Birmingham at the weekend, Chelsea fought hard to overcome Premier League title rivals Manchester United on Saturday.

But the fact that some of Liverpool's players will be fresher than his does not bother the Israeli.

Liverpool have to score or they are out and Grant, in a veiled dig at the Merseysiders, says he was happier fighting for the title on Saturday instead of going through the motions.

'First, I'm very glad that we had a game that was important for us and we didn't need to rest players,' said Grant.

'Of course, it's sometimes an advantage, but I don't think it will disturb us when it comes to the game.

'On Saturday we wanted to show that we can play like champions. We wanted to do that. But this is another game, a Champions League semi-final. We want to do it in this game.

'We started the game really well in Liverpool and deserved one goal. Then they played well but, in the end, we showed good character and were better at the end. We scored in the last minute. You can say whatever you like but it is 1-1.

'The dream of everybody is the Champions League. This is the top. We've gone a long, long way. It has not been easy up to this game.

'The target is the Champions League, for sure. You cannot say it's more important than other competitions, but it's very important for the club and I'm here to sell the club.

'Chelsea wants to be a big club. When you want to be a big club, you need to win the Champions League. It's very important for the club to create history for Chelsea.'

Chelsea's England midfielder Frank Lampard played in the first leg at Anfield last Tuesday but missed the 2-1 win over United on Saturday after the death of his mother in between.

Lampard has since returned to training and is likely to be in the squad for the game but Grant will leave it to the player to decide if he is mentally and physically fit enough to play in such a high-profile affair.

'Frank is doing everything to be available for the game,' said Grant.

'We always take decisions after the last training session.'

Captain John Terry is a yellow card away from missing the final in Moscow on May 21 but Grant does not think that will affect him in any way.

He added: 'You know him like I know him. He'll play to win like he always does. He won't play any differently.'