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May 17, 2008

Pompey maintain pride of England

Portsmouth 1-0 Cardiff City

LONDON, Wembley -- Goalkeeper Peter Enckelman is no stranger to high-profile blunders. The former Aston Villa goalkeeper once made such a howler in a Midlands derby against Birmingham City that it gave rise to the verb 'to do an Enckelman'.

But if that error proved hard to overcome, then the Cardiff City keeper's costly fumble that handed Portsmouth a 1-0 win in the 2008 FA Cup Final may prove even more scarring - especially given the added edge to a fixture that pitted England versus Wales, Championship versus Premiership.

Walking down Wembley Way en route to the stadium it became instantly apparent that this final was about more than just winning the FA Cup; it was also about national pride. The Cardiff fans produced a huge banner that revealed the club crest emblazoned upon the flag of Wales and the Portsmouth supporters responded with their Pompey-branded cross of St George flags.

Just in case anybody was in doubt as to the dual nationality of this final, the organisers decided to play Welsh national anthem Land of Our Fathers before the traditional God Save The Queen and both sets of fans roundly booed the others' tune.

When the game kicked off, it was Cardiff who reacted better to the fervour and forced David James into a good early save at the feet of Paul Parry, with only minutes gone. It was good job the goalkeeper was more awake than the rest of his team-mates as any mistimed challenge would have resulted in a penalty.

Bluebirds striker Parry again tested James after 11 minutes, but England's sometime No.1 was again up to the challenge and rushed off his line to block his low shot. A more composed striker might have gone round the keeper.

Cardiff continued to press and once Peter Whittingham's shot was deflected wide of James' goal, as the keeper stood rooted to the spot, Pompey manager Harry Redknapp was off his seat to berate his team.

As a consequence the English side began to edge possession, without any real penetration until the impressive Lassana Diarra won the ball in midfield and launched an attack that ended when Nwankwo Kanu rounded Enckelman and with the goal at his mercy somehow fired into the side netting.

The Nigerian's miss prompted the Cardiff fans into chants of "Pompey, Pompey what's the score?" and sparked the game into life.

As the Welsh team's early dominance faded, Diarra took further control of midfield and the Premier League team began to show their class. John Utaka advanced down the right flank and when Enckelman spilled his cross, Kanu was there to redeem himself. He poked the ball into the net to give Pompey the lead.

The veteran's strike brought an end to 373 minutes of goalless football for Redknapp's men, who looked like a team relieved that particular burden had been lifted and then threatened to swamp Cardiff before the break.

However, the Bluebirds fought back admirably and could have equalised straight away through Kevin McNaughton; but the right-back steered his effort wide at the far post. Dutch defender Glenn Loovens then claimed he had equalised on the stroke of half-time but his looping chip was ruled out for a blatant handball, by the same player, in the build-up.

Pompey began better in the second-half. Diarra continued to run the midfield and once again launched an attack, combining with Niko Kranjcar, that ended with Kanu missing another sitter.

With things beginning to look bleak for Cardiff, manager David Jones introduced one of Britain's hottest young properties into the match in Aaron Ramsey. The 17-year-old took to the pitch to a huge cheer from the Bluebirds fans as he became the second youngest player to play in an FA Cup final.

Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, amongst others, have already been linked with the winger and for the next ten minutes the Cup Final became Ramsey-watch.

However, the starlet struggled to find his feet early on and after his first few touches the attention drifted back to the game as a whole.

By this point, Pompey were so comfortable that on 68 minutes they brought on David Nugent - a man who Redknapp attempted to sell in the same transfer window that he bought him - for Utaka and the striker forced a routine save from Enckelman with his first touch.

Cardiff battled hard and when the ball fell to the feet of Ramsey in the box with only minutes remaining it looked like the stage was set for the youngster to make history, but the ball became trapped under his feet and the midfielder fluffed his lines.

As the final whistle blew the Cardiff fans applauded a game effort from their team.

The Welsh side last won the competition in 1927 and although Jones' men did not repeat the glory of those days, his current team certainly did enough to give fans an alternative FA Cup memory to talk about.

Instead the glory went to Redknapp, who became the first English manager to win the FA Cup since 1995, when Joe Royle, a good friend of both managers on show today, guided Everton to victory over Manchester United.

The win completes a revolution for Redknapp at Pompey. When he walked back in the door in December of 2005 the club were languishing in a relegation fight and were described as "the worst team you have seen". Three years on they are FA Cup holders.

Man of the Match: Lassana Diarra

The sponsors gave the award to Kanu as the goalscorer, but it was Diarra who allowed Portsmouth to gain control of the match. The French international continually won the ball in midfield and drove forward to launch his team's most incisive attacks.

Moan of the match: The drunk journo who kept imparting his 'wisdom' to me throughout the match.

Chant of the match: "He's fat, he's round, he comes from Ingurlaand: Davey Jones, Davey Jones." The Pompey fans taunting the Welsh club about their English manager.


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