Portsmouth continues attempt for unlikely FA Cup

Portsmouth will continue its attempt to become the most unlikely FA
Cup winner for more than two decades when it plays Tottenham in one
of two semifinals at Wembley this weekend.

Portsmouth’s 2008 FA Cup title was its first in 58 years and
anticipated by only the most optimistic fans. A repeat would be
near miraculous.

The small south coast club has sold most of its top players
in an attempt to pay off huge debts run up in an attempt to chase
honors, and what is left of its squad has been decimated by
injuries.

Pompey is bottom of the Premier League and on the verge of
relegation after its financial problems incurred the deduction of
nine points – and four of its best recent players could be lining
up for Tottenham on Sunday.

Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Niko Kranjcar and Younes Kaboul
have all followed manager Harry Redknapp from Portsmouth to
Tottenham over the past 14 months, with three of the quartet
returning for a second spell at Spurs.

The feeling of a reunion is widespread, with former Tottenham
players Ricardo Rocha, Michael Brown, Kevin Prince Boateng and
Jamie O’Hara all at Portsmouth.

O’Hara is on loan from Spurs and will not appear against his
parent club, while Rocha must ignore pain from a cheekbone injury
sustained last month.

“I still have some pain in my cheek but there are a lot of
injuries in the side, so I needed to play,” Rocha said. “I had
another knock in the same place but that’s football and you get
used to it.”

Rocha is crucial to Pompey’s defense with Hermann Hreidarsson
out for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and fullback
Anthony Vanden Borre suspended after a red card in Saturday’s 0-0
draw with Blackburn. Striker Danny Webber is also out for the rest
of the season.

Tottenham has beaten Portsmouth twice in the league this
season and could be lifted by the return of winger Aaron Lennon
after more than three months out injured.

Leading scorer Jermain Defoe may start for the first time in
almost a month after coming on as a halftime substitute last
weekend but Redknapp could have serious concerns over his defense.

First-choice central defenders Ledley King and Jonathan
Woodgate have started a total 17 Premier League games between them
this season, none of them together, and the back line was weak when
backup and stand-in captain Michael Dawson missed Saturday’s 3-1
loss at Sunderland because of an Achilles problem.

Kaboul played alongside Sebastien Bassong but looked as
fallible as he did in his first spell at Tottenham.

The match is the first in a tough week of fixtures that could
define Tottenham’s season.

While Portsmouth’s final position has effectively been
decided, Spurs are still challenging for fourth place and a
first-ever Champions League qualification. But three days after a
tiring match on the big, heavy Wembley surface, Tottenham must host
local rival Arsenal and then league leader Chelsea another three
days later.

Tottenham is a point behind fourth-place Manchester City
after a surprise 3-1 loss at Sunderland last weekend and is also
vying with Liverpool and Aston Villa for the coveted position.

“We’ve got the toughest fixtures, for sure, and the biggest
injury list, but we’re still right in there,” Tottenham manager
Harry Redknapp said.

Defending champion Chelsea plays Aston Villa in the other
semifinal on Saturday just two weeks after handing Villa a 7-1
defeat and its worst ever Premier League result.

“You will never forget about it really and you are always
going to hear about it,” Villa striker Nathan Delfouneso said. “It
might give us a bit more incentive to go out there and put it
right.”

After the disappointment of Champions League elimination,
Chelsea has hit form with 14 goals in three matches including last
week’s 2-1 win at Premier League champion Manchester United.

Chelsea has never won the FA Cup and Premier League title in
the same season but with Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Florent
Malouda all in potent form, the London club has a real chance of
becoming the seventh team to do so.

In the Premier League on Saturday, Hull hosts Burnley and
West Ham hosts Sunderland in key matches in the fight against
relegation. On Sunday, Manchester United can retake top spot
temporarily if it wins at Blackburn, while Liverpool hosts Fulham,
Manchester City entertains Birmingham and Stoke visits
Wolverhampton Wanderers.