As the dust settles on Chelsea's 3-0 semifinal defeat of Aston Villa this evening, our attentions turn to the second match to be played at Wembley this weekend: Portsmouth against Tottenham Hotspur.
Two Clubs Heading in Different Directions
This match pits a team chasing a lucrative fourth-place finish in the Premier League against one already relegated, a club whose very existence in the short-term has been cast in doubt.
On paper, it would be foolish to back Avram Grant's beleaguered south coast side.
Not only has the team been relegated and the coffers emptied, but also half of the first-team players will be sidelined through injury, or ineligible for selection tomorrow afternoon.
Two years ago, things seemed a lot rosier for Pompey: by the time Nwankwo Kanu had scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final, Harry Redknapp had led Portsmouth to an eighth-place league finish.
He was subsequently decorated with a 'Freedom of Portsmouth' award, which he would currently be foolish to exercise, given that many embittered fans lay the blame for Portsmouth's financial implosion at his door. An unfair assessment given that the club recouped £68 million in transfer fees in the past three years, £32 million more than they spent during Redknapp's three-year tenure.
Now Redknapp has found happiness and fulfilment at White Hart Lane, where he took over a club which had fallen into disrepair and had been led astray by incompetent leadership, unrest, and underperforming players.
Having re-established some stability and consistency at the club, he has recruited sensibly, instilled confidence in several outcast players, and sured up the team's defence.
Were it not for a brutal end-of-season fixture list, Spurs would be clear favourites to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Tomorrow's semifinal showdown is critical to both clubs from a footballing and financial viewpoint. For Spurs, it is an opportunity to take a step closer to guaranteeing European football of some sort next season. For Portsmouth, the prize money on offer for reaching the final may mean a lot more than that.
The south coast club may welcome back four key players for the clash—Nadir Belhadj, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Papa Boupa Diop, and David James—which would allow them to field seven substitutes. They will, however, miss the influential Spurs loanee Jamie O'Hara, who has been involved in many of the team's best attacking moments this season.
Tottenham may be missing as many as 10 players through injury or suspension. Fans will be praying that Jermain Defoe, Vedran Corluka, and Michael Dawson pull through late fitness tests; the former will be keen to make an impression against his old team, particularly in front of the watchful Fabio Capello, the latter two would allow Redknapp to field something resembling a defense.
Key to the outcome will be Tottenham holding their nerve in front of goal and at the back, where the team tends to lose concentration and discipline at crucial moments.
For Portsmouth, it is important that they do not allow their opponents the time and space to out-pass and out-play them. The longer the game remains goalless, the greater chance Portsmouth will have of winning.
Nevertheless, the London club should have too much quality at both ends of the pitch tomorrow, especially if Dawson and Defoe are passed fit.
Injuries and Suspensions
Portsmouth: Ben Haim, Hreidarsson, Van den Borre, O'Hara, Webber.
Tottenham Hotspur: King, Woodgate, Huddlestone, Jenas, Lennon.
Portsmouth (4-5-1) James; Finnan, Hughes, Wilson, Belhadj; Smith, Mokoena, Boateng, Yebda, Dindane; Kanu.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2) Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Kranjcar, Modric, Palacios, Bale; Defoe, Crouch.
Portsmouth: David James, Nadir Belhadj.
Tottenham Hotspur: Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe.
Portsmouth 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur.
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