Hazard sends Chelsea into FA Cup final with victory vs Spurs
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 23, 2017 11:39 AM
Chelsea's Eden Hazard, right, celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley stadium in London, Saturday, April 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer
LONDON (AP) — Eden Hazard had a rare view from the Chelsea bench, and it wasn't comfortable viewing.
Twice Willian scored, but each time Tottenham struck back in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday.
Approaching an hour in with a sharper, slicker Spurs seizing the initiative at Wembley Stadium, Chelsea coach Antonio Conte finally deployed Hazard.
"When you play football you want to play every game," Hazard said, "but he made a great choice."
A selection gamble that could have backfired now looked like a masterstroke as Hazard halted the Tottenham momentum and sent Chelsea into a final against Arsenal or Manchester City next month.
Tottenham's fightback was shut down in a potent five-minute spell. Hazard shot the ball through a crowded penalty area into the net in the 75th minute and then he teed up Nemanja Matic for a powerful strike off the inside of the crossbar.
It secured a 4-2 victory and potentially a psychological blow on the final stretch of the English Premier League. Chelsea's lead has been slashed to four points by Tottenham with six games remaining but Conte is still in contention for a double in his first season in charge of the west London club.
While Chelsea hasn't won the FA Cup in five years, Tottenham's drought goes back to 1991 and it has lost seven successive semifinals since then.
It was a dismal start on Saturday, conceding after five minutes when Willian curled in a free kick but Harry Kane leveled in the 18th when he darted in front of Nathan Ake to flick Christian Eriksen's cross into the net.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino's curious decision to play Son Heung-min at left wingback looked a costly one just before halftime when Son slid and tripped Victor Moses in the penalty that Willian converted. But Tottenham replied again seven minutes into the second half after Dele Alli latched onto Christian Eriksen's exquisite long pass.
And yet the north London club would have nothing to show for its dominance after Conte's game-changing double substitution that saw Hazard brought on with top-scorer Diego Costa.
"We played with personality and character, and we dominate a team that played well," Pochettino said. "We forced them to play deeper and play on the counterattack and in transition."
It was a difficult game for the team coming a day after the shock death of Ugo Ehiogu, the 44-year-old coach of Tottenham Under-23s who collapsed on the training ground on Thursday.
"It is true we are fighting to play and win games but it is all relative after this type of situation," Pochettino said.
Arsenal faces Manchester City in the second semifinal on Sunday.
There were four Premier League games on Saturday.
BOURNEMOUTH 4, MIDDLESBROUGH 0
Bournemouth nudged closer to securing a third season in the Premier League by moving seven points from danger. But Middlesbrough is plummeting toward the League Championship, sitting nine points from safety.
The visitors imploded in an opening 20 minutes, conceding goals from Joshua King and Benik Afobe, and seeing Gaston Ramirez receive two yellow cards. Marc Pugh and Charlie Daniels added further goals in the second half.
HULL 2, WATFORD 0
Despite striker Oumar Niasse being sent off in the 25th minute, Hull produced a victory to bolster the survival bid. Second-half goals from Lazar Markovic and Sam Clucas kept the north-east side two points above the relegation zone.
SWANSEA 2, STOKE 0
Fernando Llorente's header and Tom Carroll's deflected strike ended Swansea's six-game winless run. The south Wales side remained in the drop zone due to Hull's win.
WEST HAM 0, EVERTON 0
A drab game secured a point that lifted Everton into sixth place above Arsenal, which has three games in hand. West Ham moved seven points clear of the relegation zone with four games remaining.