Kostas Tsimikas struck the winning penalty as Liverpool triumphed in the FA Cup final, downing a spirited Chelsea after 120 hard-fought minutes at Wembley Stadium
The Greek international finally separated these two teams by firing home the winning penalty in the shoot-out after 120 minutes’ of enthralling entertainment as the Reds’ quadruple hung in the balance. Nothing could prise this same duo apart in the Carabao Cup three months ago and it was a similar story at Wembley as fortunes ebbed and flowed.
Despite a stellar cast-list, no-one was capable of writing their own narrative as both teams squandered good chances to settle this in normal time. The additional 30 minutes failed to find a winner – and so it went down to a test from the penalty spot for only the third time in the competition’s history.
In fact, Liverpool were the beneficiaries when they last won the famous old pot 16 years ago when the defeated West Ham in similar fashion at the Millennium Stadium. They had maintained their cool in the Carabao Cup – winning 11-10 – but they did not need as many attempts this time out to land the second leg of their historic trophy bid.
It appeared that they would do it within the regulation first five shots from 12 yards after Cesar Azpilicueta slammed the Blues’ second effort against the upright. Sadio Mane had the chance to seal it with Liverpool’s final penalty only for him to see Eduoard Mendy produce a brilliant low left-handed save to make it a sudden-death finale.
However, whatever Chelsea ’s keeper could do, Alisson matched as he did likewise to keep out Mason Mount’s shot. And that left Tsimikas to grab the glory by sending his effort low into the bottom corner as Klopp’s players and his backroom staff invaded the turf in wild jubilation.
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It was a tie that could have gone either way in normal time. In the early stages, the Reds flew out of the blocks. There had already been one or two close shaves when Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered a through ball of the highest quality for Luis Diaz to run onto.
The England international used the outside of his right boot and his Portuguese colleague didn’t need to break his stride before collecting and bearing down on Mendy’s goal. His shot was only partially blocked by the keeper’s legs and it needed Trevor Chalobah to belt clear as the ball threatened to cross the goal line.
In fact, it took Chelsea a full quarter-hour before they secured any meaningful possession in Liverpool’s half but by the end of the opening 45 minutes had posed just as much of a threat. Christian Pulisic steered a shot just beyond the post after Mount fed him inside the area and then he fashioned a chance when he sent Marcos Alonso through. The pass was too heavy and allowed Alisson the time to close the gap and block.
But there was an undoubted boost for Chelsea just after the half-hour when Mohamed Salah sat on the Wembley turf. It appeared ominous as the little Egyptian didn’t appear to have been caught in an obvious incident.
He forlornly made his way from the pitch, Diogo Jota coming on in his place. Initial reports of a possible groin problem do not bode well for the finale to the campaign. Romelu Lukaku blasted over when put through by Jorginho – and the second-half started as it finished. With Chelsea fashioning three chances in the opening two-and-a-half minutes.
It looked just a matter of time before one team would create a breakthrough. But, like two prize-fighters, the pair of them simply slugged it out, trading punches without ever delivering the killer blow.
There isn’t enough newsprint to detail a blow-by-blow account. Suffice to say that the two clearest opportunities arrived in the final ten minutes of normal time.
Diaz – who must hold the record for the most shots on goal in an FA Cup final – took a pass from Sadio Mane and clattered a drive against the upright. Moments later, Andy Robertson did likewise after a move spanning the length of the field.
It wasn’t the last meaningful action. That came later. And what a finale it was for Alisson and Tsimikas.