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Blue what a scorcher!; CHELSEA (1) 2; Di Matteo 1, Newton 83 BORO (0) 0 Attendance: 79, 160.

Roberto Di Matteo grabbed the royal blue flag of Chelsea and flew it as high as their anthem demands.

He knows as well as the rest of this rich cosmopolitan gathering that Wembley has seen far more compelling matches in its time.

But never an FA Cup Final with a quicker goal as the one Di Matteo struck to give Chelsea the lead after just 43 seconds.

Nor one that made Mark Hughes the first man this century to acquire four winners medals.

And not too many with the level of personal triumph achieved by unsung hero Eddie Newton who scored the second goal just seven minutes from time.

Newton, out of action almost all of last year through injury, felt his days at Stamford Bridge were numbered when Di Matteo signed for a club record pounds 4.9m fee.

Now they shared together Chelsea's most delirious domestic achievement since the Blues won the FA Cup for the first and only previous time 27 years ago.

Their exploits left Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson, who has had so much glory himself at Wembley, empty-handed and full of all-consuming despair.

If Boro had a hope, then it lay with Fabrizio Ravanelli, scorer of 31 goals this season, lasting the 90 minutes. But his troublesome thigh forced him out of the action midway through the first half.

Robson's plight was to be pitied, but I have witnessed nothing more moving at this stadium than Concetta Di Matteo, Roberto's lovely blind sister, LISTENING to the sounds of her brother's success in the stand.

Her father, relating events at her shoulder, will not have known his son's opening goal beat by just two seconds one registered by Wor Jackie Milburn against Manchester City 42 years ago.

Di Matteo's shooting power was destructive but Boro suffered also from the rapier-like artistry of his passing.

There was not a rival to get within tackling distance of him for the Man of the Match Trophy. No, not even Gianfranco Zola. Footballer of the Year, maybe, but he was a man searching for his genius here.

Nor Juninho, the Brazilian waif who has wept buckets of tears during a nightmare finale to a season that started with such blazing promise.

Juninho's heart has appeared to be impossibly large within his tiny frame while he has battled to rescue something from the dregs of a broken season.

He did his best to leave Boro with the FA Cup as an enduring memory of his quicksilver talents. And he certainly troubled Chelsea. Di Matteo could easily have been sent off rather than just booked when he brought the Brazilian down in the 55th minute.

You can imagine how Boro must have felt losing the Coca-Cola Cup Final and dropping out of the Premiership through three docked points.

But to go down to the fastest goal in any of the previous 115 versions of this showpiece was something else again.

It was a strike the speed and violence of which stunned the senses.

Robbie Mustoe, overawed by the occasion, was mercifully withdrawn from Boro's midfield after just 28 minutes. Sadly for Mustoe, his first touch allowed Dennis Wise to slip the ball to Di Matteo.

Running straight at the heart of Boro's defence, Di Matteo made almost 50 yards before belting a 25-yarder over keeper Ben Roberts and in off the underside of the bar.

Di Matteo had approached the final deep within the shadows of men like Zola and Juninho.

Both were considered to carry the greater menace in their boots.

But, perhaps inspired by the majestic figure of his manager Ruud Gullit striding on to the Wembley turf, Di Matteo was imperious.

One deft pass with the outside of his foot gave Scott Minto a chance to add to the lead on nine minutes.

Minto forced the ball beyond the challenge of Roberts. Skipper Nigel Pearson slipped in the act of clearing and Phil Stamp whacked the ball away from the empty net. Di Matteo's ruthless passing cut Boro to shreds once again halfway through the first half.

This time Romanian Dan Petrescu hoisted a lob over Roberts and was deprived by a courageous header from Pearson inches from the upright.

Boro lost Ravanelli within seconds of the incident. They must have sent him out to play with all fingers crossed and a prayer on their lips.

For Ravanelli pulled up short after a challenge from keeper Frode Grodas signalled the end of his Cup Final and, surely, his career with Middlesbrough.

He was replaced by Danish striker Mikkel Beck, but much of the passion and creative instincts vanished with him.

Gullit, tired of the tedious rhythms that invaded the game, strode to the touchline to demand that his team raise the tempo.

Zola almost responded with a thumping 30-yard free kick. But young Roberts, third choice keeper at start of the season, plunged sharply to his left to produce a save to treasure.

And soon afterwards only a linesman's flag for offside robbed Gianluca Festa of an equaliser.

Festa was furious to see his powerful header from Stamp's cross ruled out, but TV replays showed the decision to be correct.

Zola then played a crucial part in Chelsea's second goal as the clock wound down.

Petrescu lifted the ball beyond the far post. It would have run harmlessly out of play but for a clever back-heel from Zola that left Newton with a simple tap-in.

Zola had produced a piece of pure magic in the 71st minute when he evaded three challengers, turned inside, hurdled two more and fired a shot that Roberts saved - partly with his face.

Yet Chelsea fans still howled for the presence of Gianluca Vialli for whom they have such affection.

Vialli had asked Gullit to give him five minutes so he could carry the memory of Wembley into a fast approaching retirement.

Gullit, apparently unmoved in the relentless quest for success, softened his heart and introduced him in place of Zola.

Concetta Di Matteo will not have understood the crescendo of booing Boro fans directed at FA chiefs Keith Wiseman and Graham Kelly before the start.

Nor their deafening clamour for those lost three points that have doomed them to relegation.

But she will always feel the full warmth of her brother's enchanting date with destiny.

Surely no one in the seats around her can have observed her sightless joy without having tears in their own eyes.




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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Barnes, David
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 18, 1997
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