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FA Cup Final - Wembley - Saturday 13th May 2006

Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United (Liverpool win 3-1 on Penalties)

Liverpool
Gerrard 2, Cisse
Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso (Kromkamp 67), Sissoko, Kewell (Morientes 48); Crouch (Hamann 71), Cisse.
West Ham
Carragher og, Ashton, Konchesky
Hislop; Scaloni, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Benayoun, Reo-Coker, Fletcher (Dailly 78), Etherington (Sheringham 85); Harewood, Ashton (Zamora 71).

Ref: A Wiley

Attendance: 74,000


MATCH REPORT

If this really was the last FA Cup final in Cardiff, it will surely have proved a parting of such sweet sorrow for winners and losers alike. It was not so much a case of bringing the curtain down on the Millennium Stadium's tenure of the world's oldest cup competition as bringing the roof down during one of the most memorable and dramatic finals in history, certainly the most outstanding of the past 20 years.

Party time: Jose Reina's three shootout stops provided the win for Liverpool in a thrilling FA Cup final West Ham and Liverpool restored several layers of gloss to the old trophy on its 125th day out. And only in the penalty shoot-out did West Ham's tired players finally succumb when fate, as fickle as ever, pointed a finger of reprieve at Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina, at fault for two West Ham goals, by restoring his angel's wings.

How ironic that after Arsenal last year became the first team to win on penalties, after a turgid goalless draw against Manchester United, this brilliantly colourful affair should produce a second in succession.

No one could begrudge Liverpool captain and man of the match Steven Gerrard his right to lift the cup after his two brilliant goals and his driving influence on his team. Yet Hammers' Nigel Reo-Coker, who looked destined to become the youngest captain to lift the trophy since Bobby Moore for the same club in 1964, would have been as fitting a recipient because Moore himself would have been proud of the way he and West Ham performed in the true Upton Park manner.

All their players were a credit not just to the wonderful tradition of the old West Ham football academy but to manager Alan Pardew, who has overcome so much criticism and personal abuse with his dignity and credentials intact.

One feared that West Ham might have allowed their professional preparations to be undermined by the occasion when, as soon as the opera singers had finished straining for the high notes of Abide With Me and Michael Ball had delivered the national anthem, they sprinted to dance in front of their supporters as if, like the Cockney Boys, they, too, had arrived in a stretch Hummer for a day out.

But, once the action began, it became clear that they had been simply plugging into the energy of their supporters and that they had not crossed the Severn Bridge to fulfil the role of plucky underdogs. Having allowed Liverpool to dominate the early possession, they began mounting swift, dangerous counter-attacks.

Many of the West Ham banners, as you would imagine, were dipped in homage to their past, with tributes to their late former managers Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, who died just days before this year's semi-final. And John and Ron would have nodded in approval from the heavens at an opening West Ham goal that reflected everything they believed and preached about the way the game should be played.

Liverpool had been surprisingly careless with possession and when Xabi Alonso, whose passing is normally scalpel accurate, knocked the ball to Yossi Benayoun just inside the halfway line, the mistake proved fatal. The ball was instantly transferred to Dean Ashton, whose ball over the top released Lionel Scaloni, arriving at the speed of the cavalry, to deliver a right-wing cross that Jamie Carragher turned into his own net.

Bubbles drifted around the Millennium Stadium and, within seven minutes, Hammers supporters were ready to float away with them when Reina, the man bought to replace the accident prone Jerzy Dudek, dropped Matthew Etherington's snapshot and Ashton, with a predator's instinct, touched it in.

West Ham fans, though, are ever aware of the second verse of their famous anthem, the one that warns of fortune always hiding. So they would not have been surprised that, with fortune offering them a big sunny face, their team instantly squandered half their advantage by allowing Djibril Cisse to beat their defenders to Steven Gerrard's ball over the top.

Liverpool, of course, came from 3-0 down against AC Milan to win last year's Champions League final on penalties, so they were not about to panic. And when Gerrard equalised for Liverpool nine minutes into the second half, West Ham looked like becoming the first team to suffer the indignity of losing an FA Cup final after leading 2-0 since Sheffield Wednesday in 1966. But then came a shot of pure impudence by Paul Konchesky 30 yards from goal out on the left wing which dipped over the head of the despairing Reina.

Just as it was announced that there would be four minutes of time added on, however, Gerrard struck his second equaliser from just outside the box.

Then came extra time and the surreal sight of players going down all over the pitch with cramp, followed by the penalty shoot-out drama, with Reina saving from Benayoun, Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand. Doubtless, for the third year in succession, we will be back for another Millennium finale in 12 months time, though no one will mind if the occasion matches this one.


Round By Round


Semi-Finals

Chelsea v Liverpool 1-2

6th Round

Birmingham City v Liverpool 0-7

5th Round

Liverpool v Manchester United 1-0

4th Round

Portsmouth v Liverpool (29/1) 1-2

3rd Round

Luton Town v Liverpool 3-5