Before kickoff, this one already had all the makings of a memorable cup match. By full time, it hadn't disappointed.
Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero scored for Manchester City as the defending Premier League champions ended Chelsea's quest for a fifth FA Cup title in seven seasons with a 2-1 semifinal win at Wembley on Sunday. In victory, Roberto Mancini's City moved into their second final in three years despite allowing their first goal of the competition.
It was a match of the Cup's last two champions, and it delivered on that promise. The contest thrilled throughout, as a high first-half tempo turned into a hot-tempered second half. City could—perhaps should—have been out of sight early in the second half before Chelsea mounted a stirring fight back.
Chelsea pressed to the final whistle but fell short for the first time in 30 FA Cup matches. City, meanwhile, lived to fight on in their quest to right a disappointing season.
The match began at a breathless pace, and City took the early offensive initiative. Yaya Toure carved out the first chance, charging through the midfield in the fourth minute and setting up Sergio Aguero, who shot into the side netting from the left side of the box. The two then combined again to force a superb save out of Petr Cech, both redirecting Gareth Barry's cross dangerously on goal.
Chelsea slowly grew into the game and began to assert control. Midway through the first half, Eden Hazard looped a header on goal, and with Costel Pantilimon stranded, Vincent Kompany cleared the ball off the line.
But the breakthrough came at the other end in the 35th minute. Again Toure was the architect, powering down the right before passing to Aguero in the middle. Aguero laid off for Nasri, who benefited from Cesar Azpilicueta's poor clearance to score his first goal in 21 appearances.
It nearly became 2-0 in first-half stoppage time. City countered swiftly down the left through James Milner, whose shot/cross rebounded to Kompany. The defender shot low and wide at the near post in the final act of a thrilling first half.
The near-miss didn't matter. City doubled their lead in the 47th minute through Aguero. Barry crossed from the right, and Aguero timed his leap to loop a long header in off the back post.
It was Aguero's 15th tally of the season, a total that could be interpreted as disappointing for a striker of Aguero's stature. But much like his decisive goal last weekend in the win over Manchester United, and his unforgettable effort against QPR last spring, this strike underlined Aguero's ability to score at crucial times.
It also stopped Chelsea short early in the half, preempting any thoughts of a quick turnaround. The Blues had emerged from the locker room early at halftime, apparently enthusiastic about overturning their deficit. The goal dampened that enthusiasm, but if anything, the scoreline flattered Chelsea.
If City could finish off a 5 v 3 or 3 v 2, they would be 5-0 up by now. Still, 11 v 11 not going so bad— Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) April 14, 2013
Benitez responded by bringing on Fernando Torres, who replaced John Obi Mikel in the 66th minute. The masked Spaniard had impressed recently, scoring three times in his previous three matches, but within seconds it was Chelsea's other striker making his presence known.
Torres and Demba Ba both made runs into the heart of City's defense as David Luiz played a ball forward from the middle of the field. Ba held off Matija Nastasic and finished with an acrobatic volley over his shoulder.
The introduction of Torres altered Chelsea's formation to a 4-4-2. With Torres and Ba playing together up top, Chelsea suddenly seemed lethal. Before the goal, Manchester City—who had not conceded all season in the FA Cup—looked secure. Within moments of the breakthrough, Mata nearly won a penalty before Hazard teed up Ba for a first-time shot from close range, which was saved.
This last phase of play has been a real tribute to Chelsea's character and resilience. Looked a totally beaten side after Aguero's goal.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) April 14, 2013
Mancini's response was to sacrifice Tevez for Javi Garcia in an effort to shore up City's midfield. Chelsea remained on the attack, with David Luiz curling a free kick high and wide. But Toure created a chance for himself at the other end with a storming dribble into the box.
Aguero escaped what could have been a red card for a two-footed stamp on David Luiz's back, and Torres raked Aguero's ankle with his studs as intensity built in the final 10 minutes. Torres begged for a penalty after a challenge with Kompany in the box, but referee Chris Foy allowed play to continue.
Kompany had a handful of Torres' shirt, and Foy's decision will surely prompt passionate debate about whether Chelsea deserved a penalty.
As play went on, Chelsea pressured City's goal throughout stoppage time but couldn't find an equalizer. Instead, City advanced to their 10th FA Cup final, where a sixth title would help redeem what has been at times a disappointing season for Mancini's men.
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