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ROBERTO'S QUICKIE MAKES ROBBO SICKIE!; Blue heaven in 43 seconds.

It Took Middlesbrough 121 years to reach their first FA Cup Final...but they needed only 43 seconds to lose it.

Once Roberto Di Matteo had put Chelsea ahead with the fastest goal in Cup Final history, there was no way Bryan Robson's team could hope to end this crazy season with a winner's medal.

They had been battered emotionally and physically and, if Chelsea had taken real advantage of that early goal, it wouldn't only have been Jackie Milburn's fastest-scoring record that bit the dust.

The biggest winning margin of 6-0 set by Bury against Derby in 1903 could also have been under threat.

But although Milburn's record went, this first multi-national final never replaced or even caught up with the sort of game we always seemed to get when Jackie and his mates were in action.

Between them these two teams fielded players from Italy, Brazil, France, Denmark, Norway, Romania and Slovakia.

The game was watched by one billion people around the world and, it seems, most of them had at least one reason to say "go on my son."

But it was a satisfying final rather than a scintillating affair - you could say it was all downhill after the first 43 seconds.

Following their defeat in the Coca-Cola Final and relegation from the Premiership, that goal was the last thing Boro needed.

They've done more crying than Gazza in recent weeks and there will be even more red eyes on Teesside after this result.

"I'd rather lose in the final than in the third round," said Robson - but you have to wonder just how much punishment one team can take.

Did they have to become the whipping boys yet again quite so early in the game?

The weathermen had forecast thunderstorms in the Wembley area some time during the day but they said nothing about lightning striking in the first minute

When Wise fed Di Matteo on the halfway line there seemed no real danger as he started his run.

He had Hughes to his left and Zola on his right and the Middlesbrough defence concentrated on closing that pair down.

But Italians are selfish by nature and Di Matteo wasn't about to give the ball to anyone. He kept running until he unleashed his killer blow when 25 yards from goal.

When Minto was left clear soon afterwards it looked like the second strike for Chelsea and then the avalanche may well have arrived.

But this time Roberts in the Boro goal survived and, with skipper Pearson dragging every last ounce of effort out of his men and Juninho again running his heart out, the game began to hit a now familiar, boring Wembley final pattern.

As if Middlesbrough didn't have enough trouble already they lost 31- goal hero Ravanelli midway through the first half when his hamstring went again and Mustoe joined him on the crocks' list soon afterwards.

They had to reorganise with Festa moving out of central defence into midfield and he came nearest to scoring for them when he headed in only to be ruled offside - a close call but the right one I thought.

The half ended with Zola bending a free kick around the wall, only to be foiled by a Roberts save. It was to be Chelsea's tiny Italian who would dominate the second half while Juninho, runner-up to Zola as Footballer of the Year, again did most to try to rescue Boro.

Zola started the half by skipping around the keeper, only to be foiled by Fleming, then Juninho ran 40 yards before being brought down from behind by Di Matteo.

"Off, off," yelled the Boro fans, a chant which brought a smile to the face of the man sitting directly in front of me. He was Peter Willis, the referee who had put Kevin Moran into the record books by making him the first player to be sent off in an FA Cup Final.

This year's referee Stephen Lodge decided a yellow card was enough punishment this time for Di Matteo.

Then Zola produced the second moment of real magic in the match.

It came midway through the second half when he collected a ball on halfway and, like Di Matteo in that opening minute, decided to go all the way on his own.

He slipped through, over and under tackles on his way to the byeline, where he cheekily cut back inside to put in a shot which was equally as powerful as the one that gave Italy victory against England in February.

If that one had gone in it would have been a goal even better than the one scored by Argentine Ricky Villa for Spurs in the 1981 final. But this time the ball hit Roberts and bounced clear.

Middlesbrough had their last chance when Vickers was left clear with only Grodas to beat but failed to do so and minutes later the month of misery was finally over.

A Petrescu cross to the far post was flicked back by Zola into the path of Newton who couldn't miss from only six yards.

There was just time for Chelsea boss Ruud Gullit to send on Vialli for Zola, allowing yet another Italian a brief taste of the glory before, I suspect, he leaves.

Hughes climbed the steps to create another record as the first man to win four Wembley finals, while Juninho climbed them to collect yet another losers' medal.

He doesn't deserve to leave England with such sad memories and I truly hope he joins Man United because the little man deserves to win something.

The final act of the day saw Chelsea lining up in front of their fans with the Cup, running at them, then doing a synchronised goal- celebration type dive.

It was a blue-heaven moment which will help extinguish the memory of their 4-0 defeat against United in 1994.

FOR the record, Bob Chatt is credited with scoring after 30 seconds in the 1895 final won 1-0 by Aston Villa against West Brom.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Madley, Brian
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 18, 1997
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