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Chelsea wins League Cup
Trevor Huggins | February 28, 2005 10:35 IST
Strikers Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman scored in extra time to give Chelsea a 3-2 comeback victory over Liverpool in a rollercoaster League Cup final on Sunday.
Liverpool were heading for an upset win after Norwegian midfielder John Arne Riise volleyed home the fastest goal in League Cup final history after 43 seconds, only for his captain Steven Gerrard to score a heartbreaking 79th-minute own goal.
The Premier League leaders, who had dominated possession almost all afternoon but failed to find a way through Liverpool's defence, seized the lifeline with both hands.
Drogba, the club's record signing at 24 million pounds ($45.84 million) last year, slipped the ball past keeper Jerzy Dudek in the 107th minute after Liverpool failed to intercept a Glen Johnson throw-in and Kezman stabbed in another close-range effort five minutes later.
There was still time for a heart-thumping finale when Spanish substitute Antonio Nunez headed Liverpool's second goal just seven minutes from time, but it proved to be too late.
Chelsea's Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho spent the entire extra time period on his own in the depths of the Millennium Stadium after being sent from the dug-out for appearing to gesture at Liverpool fans after his team's equaliser.
The final, played beneath a closed roof, brought Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich his first silverware since buying the then debt-ridden west London club in July 2003.
The Russian has spent more than 200 million pounds on the squad and their six-point lead at the top of the league, with a game in hand over Manchester United, is a further testament to their success.
Sunday's victory will also provide a valuable morale boost for Mourinho's men after their Champions League hopes were compromised in midweek by a 2-1 defeat at Barcelona in their knockout round first leg tie.
They also had their FA Cup hopes ended last Sunday with a 1-0 defeat by Newcastle United.
"We have the first title and almost for sure the second will be the big one," said Mourinho, referring to the Premier League.
Regarding his gestures towards the Liverpool fans, Mourinho added: "I don't regret it, the only thing I have to understand is that I'm in England and have to adapt.
The sign with my finger over the mouth was not for (the Liverpool fans) it was for the English press."
Liverpool, who had been buoyed by their 3-1 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen, will consider themselves unlucky after withstanding relentless pressure for so long.
None will have more regrets, though, than Gerrard, who has done more than any other player for the Liverpool cause in recent years and whose penalty area header flew past Dudek off the inside of the post.
"Losing any game of football is painful but to lose a final and score an own goal, it is a bad day for myself," said Gerrard, who is linked with a move to Chelsea next season.
"It is very hard but credit to Chelsea, they deserved to win. We scored early on, maybe a bit too early for our liking."
Liverpool got off to a dream start when Chelsea failed to close down Morientes, the man whose goals helped Monaco knock Chelsea out of last season's Champions League semi-finals.
The Spaniard wriggled away from the Chelsea defenders on the right side, floated a high ball over to the left and the completely unmarked Riise thumped a volley past Petr Cech.
Chelsea shrugged off the setback, but their first real shot in anger only came after 22 minutes when Frank Lampard was teed up for a shot from a free kick which flew straight into the waiting arms of Dudek.
The Polish keeper then did enough to block a Drogba effort minutes later and Luis Garcia, who had been impressively leading the Liverpool attack from midfield, made a controlled clearance off the line as Chelsea continued to turn the screw.
Mourinho, relishing his first season in English football, tried to remedy that at halftime, swapping disappointing Czech midfielder Jiri Jarosik for Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The switch soon paid dividends when Dudek, a villain for allowing Leverkusen to score a stoppage-time goal on Tuesday, pulled off a superb double-save to stop a Gudjohnsen header and a William Gallas shot.
Dietmar Hamann and Gerrard both had chances to add a second on the counter-attack and they paid the price when the skipper's attempt to clear Paulo Ferreira's free kick hit the post and beat a helpless Dudek.
Drogba came agonisingly close to winning it in the opening minutes of extra time when his header from a Duff cross beat Dudek but hit the post and bounced away.
However, the Ivory Coast striker made no mistake minutes later and the goal by Kezman, who has failed to establish a first-team place since joining last year, put the final beyond a tiring Liverpool's reach.