Portsmouth tied over tough times to book final berth
Two years after steering Chelsea's princes into the Champions League final, Avram Grant was celebrating again on Sunday after Premier League paupers Portsmouth booked a place in the FA Cup equivalent.
Portsmouth's unlikely 2-0 extra time victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley was arguably an even greater feat for the Israeli who took over in November with the south coast club apparently heading towards the financial rocks.
With debts of around 70 million pounds, problems paying the players salaries and the club finally going into administration in February, triggering a nine-point sanction that made relegation a virtual certainty, the odds have been stacked against Grant.
Image: Portsmouth's manager Avram Grant is overjoyed after their FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur
Boateng's penalty seals final spot
Yet in adversity, with no cash to spend, players suffering serious injuries and all hope apparently gone, Grant has retained a sense of spirit in a squad who could just have easily gone through the motions before jumping ship.
Pompey, whose fans sung their hearts out on Sunday in what most observers felt would be the club's last day in the sun for some time after relegation was confirmed 24 hours earlier, were given no chance against Harry Redknapp's resurgent Tottenham.
However, they hung on doggedly during the second half of normal time and, for once, Lady Luck, was on their side.
Nine minutes into extra time Tottenham skipper Michael Dawson lost his footing on the Wembley turf, gifting Frederic Piquionne the opener. Spurs then had an equaliser ruled out and finally Kevin-Prince Boateng sparked wild celebrations with a penalty three minutes from time.
Image: Portsmouth's Kevin Prince Boateng is congratulated by team-mates after scoring the vital penalty
'This achievement belongs to fans and players'
"What has happened this season, and with players also being injured in the last few weeks... to see these players give everything and never give up, it was a crazy story," Grant said as he contemplated a Wembley clash on May 15 against Chelsea, the club that sacked him after losing to Manchester United on penalties in the Champions League final.
"We have been living on a day-to-day basis and despite this we have reached the final. We decided to keep fighting but it's not easy. To come every day to work and not know what's next.
"If we won today with all these problems on the pitch it means that anything can happen. It's unbelievable. These fans this year, I will not forget it all my life. This achievement belongs to the fans and the players. They deserve it."
Image: Avram Grant celebrates with fans after the victory
'More than an honour to be in the final'
Everything that could go wrong for Portsmouth has done in recent months.
Team leader Hermann Hreidarsson, who along with goalkeeper David James is one of the few survivors from the Redknapp's Portsmouth team that won the Cup in 2008, ruptured his Achilles at Spurs recently, ruling him out of the semi-final.
Jamie O'Hara, Portsmouth's most impressive player, could not play as he was on loan from Tottenham, while on the eve of the game Nadir Belhadj was also crocked.
"Right up to the last minute we didn't know who could play," Grant said. "Players were out of position but despite that we played good football, scored two goals. It's more than an honour to be in the final."
Image: Fredrique Piquionne jumps on Avram Grant in jubilation
'It has been a nightmare, but we fought on'
"With what has happened these three months the players did not take the easy solution which would have been to give up. It's a good lesson to everybody not to take the easy solution and not to give up.
"When I came (to the club) it was a paradise compared to now because it has been a nightmare but we fought on."
Grant, who has criticised the footballing authorities for the nine-point deduction, said Sunday's victory was for the fans and the players who have suffered the consequences of the club's spiral towards financial meltdown.
"It was unfair for the people who didn't do anything wrong," said Grant.
Image: Avram Grant and David James celebrate after the victory