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Page last updated at 06:51 GMT, Thursday, 1 May 2008 07:51 UK

Chelsea's dignity and bravery

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Stamford Bridge

Frank Lampard points to the sky after scoring Chelsea's second on Wednesday night
Lampard pays tribute to his mother after scoring Chelsea's second

Frank Lampard and Avram Grant added bravery and dignity to the potent cocktail of a passionate Champions League drama served up at Stamford Bridge.

The bare facts state that Chelsea advanced to a final date with Manchester United in Moscow on 21 May with a 3-2 win over Liverpool after extra-time.

Chelsea deserved their win, a measure of revenge at last for two previous defeats against Liverpool at the same stage.

But for Lampard and Grant, victory brought so much more on both a personal and professional level.

Lampard chose this high-profile, pressurised encounter to make his comeback following the death of his mother, and responded with a performance that underscored his character and maturity, providing Chelsea with a platform and headline-writers with their story.

When Michael Ballack tumbled under Sami Hyypia's challenge eight minutes into extra-time, there was almost a hush around Stamford Bridge when it became clear the German had passed penalty duties back to Lampard, despite his success against Manchester United.

Grant happy to 'make history' with Chelsea

Chelsea's supposedly iron-hard coach Henk Ten Cate could barely look as Lampard started his run-up before burying an unerringly powerful penalty past Pepe Reina.

Only Lampard will know and understand the range of emotions that went through his mind during those few seconds, but his professionalism conquered all of them for a vital strike.

He seemed on the verge of tears before acknowledging his father, Frank senior, in the stands.

It was a defining moment for Lampard and Chelsea, a moment when superiority was wrestled back from an improving Liverpool.

Today was Holocaust day in my country. My father, who survived the Holocaust, buried my grandfather with his own hands

Chelsea boss Avram Grant
Didier Drogba added the third to put Chelsea in the final, despite an anxious last three minutes when Petr Cech fumbled in Ryan Babel's speculative effort.

And then it was time for Chelsea boss Grant to revel in the moment many critics thought was beyond him.

This low-key figure took off his jacket and dropped to his knees in joy, head in hands, as realisation dawned that he can now take his place in history as the first manager to guide Chelsea to a Champions League final.

The man who has suffered so many cruel comparisons - on and off the pitch - with his flamboyant and outspoken predecessor Jose Mourinho, had achieved something even beyond the Special One.

He had conquered Liverpool in a Champions League semi-final.

Grant was even applauded by Chelsea fans who, while not exactly warming to him, must surely respect him more with every passing week.

The Israeli then revealed his own very personal emotions that had provided the backdrop to the greatest moment of his professional career.

He said: "Today was Holocaust day in my country, and I will be making a visit to Auschwitz tomorrow. This was a special day for me. Hard but very special.

Avram Grant falls to his knees after the final whistle at Stamford Bridge
Grant has guided Chelsea to their first Champions League final

"My father, who survived the Holocaust, buried my grandfather with his own hands, so this day always has an extra significance.

"My father was the most optimistic and strong person I have ever known, so to reach the Champions League final today of all days was unbelievable."

It was a moving and dignified tribute that emphasised the inner strength of a man who has received scant praise, but could yet provide Chelsea with their most glorious moment.

Grant was rightly criticised after his tactical inertia in the Carling Cup defeat against Spurs, but he has grown into the job since then and it is time he is given the credit he is due.

Amid wild rumours of player unrest and claims of a lack of boardroom support, Grant has simply got on with the job and statistics state few could have done better.

606: DEBATE
Phil McNulty - BBC Sport

The coach who supposedly could not win the crucial games has seen off Arsenal, Manchester United and now Liverpool in the biggest matches Chelsea have faced.

He may still have his doubters, but he is starting to put big results on the table and if Grant wins the Champions League against Manchester United, all criticism will be rendered absurd.

It would also surely end all talk that he should be replaced at Chelsea. The players are certainly playing for him, which is the starting point for success.

Chelsea have an inner belief and dogged resilience that simply has to be admired, even by their critics. The win against Liverpool said everything about them.

It said just as much about Lampard and Grant and both men deserve the praise that will come their way after an outstanding victory.




see also
Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (4-3)
30 Apr 08 |  Europe
Champions League photos
30 Apr 08 |  Europe
Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea
22 Apr 08 |  Europe


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