FA Cup semi-final preview: Spurs v Portsmouth
RARELY has an FA Cup semi-final seemed such a foregone conclusion, and the Spurs fans walking up Wembley Way on Sunday will fully expect to be back again in five weeks' time. Few teams are fortunate enough to draw the Premier League's...
FA CUP SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW BY BEN PEARCE
Tottenham v Portsmouth, Sunday 4pm
RARELY has an FA Cup semi-final seemed such a foregone conclusion, and the Spurs fans walking up Wembley Way on Sunday will fully expect to be back again in five weeks' time.
Few teams are fortunate enough to draw the Premier League's bottom side in the FA Cup semi-final, and Tottenham passed a much harder test when they overcame Fulham over two legs in the quarter-final.
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Harry Redknapp will privately be very confident of securing his third Wembley final in successive years, a remarkable achievement for someone who is not managing one of the traditional Big Four teams.
Admittedly, the 62-year-old has had some luck with his semi-final draws, having faced Championship sides West Bromwich Albion and Burnley in the last two years with Portsmouth and Spurs respectively.
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This time he has drawn Premier League opposition, but only just - Pompey's relegation could be confirmed this weekend.
In fact, if Spurs triumph on Sunday, they will reach the cup final without facing any of the top 11 teams in the Premier League. The Lilywhites can have few excuses this weekend, and they should not need any.
The media continue to highlight Pompey's brave, battling performances and commendable character, but Avram Grant's side have still lost four of their last six games, including a 4-1 defeat against Liverpool and a 5-0 thrashing by Chelsea.
More relevant is Spurs' routine 2-0 win just two weeks ago in the dress rehearsal at the Lane, and Redknapp described the second half as a 'practice match'.
Pompey have also been decimated by injuries, and 10 players were side-lined for the goalless draw with Blackburn Rovers at the weekend, forcing midfielder Aaron Mokoena to play in central defence alongside ex-Spurs man Ricardo Rocha, ahead of back-up keeper Jamie Ashdown.
As many as SIX players could return for the semi-final - David James, Marc Wilson, Nadir Belhadj, Hassan Yebda, Papa Bouba Diop and former Tottenham midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng could all return to give their side a fighting chance.
However, Pompey will still be without Danny Webber, Tal Ben Haim and, worst of all, influential centre-back and skipper Herman Hreidarsson.
Meanwhile, Anthony Vanden Borre will be suspended after being dismissed against Blackburn, and loanee Aruna Dindane has been too expensive for selection since March 15 - Pompey must pay Lens �4million if he plays another game.
Portsmouth are still trying to arrange a new deal to get the Ivory Coast international onto the pitch but star man Jamie O'Hara, who is on loan from Spurs but is eligible to play if all parties agree, has been denied his chance.
"He couldn't play against us in the cup, it's not possible," said Redknapp. "He's a Tottenham player, he comes back here next year. It wouldn't do him any good at all to play against Tottenham.
"Okay, it's a good day out at Wembley for him, but he belongs here and to come back here next season having played against us, no, it wouldn't work out right for the kid."
It marks another sorry chapter in O'Hara's relationship with Wembley. The 23-year-old was reduced to tears in 2008 when Juande Ramos left him out of the squad that beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final.
Last season he was a substitute against Manchester United in the final. That time he made it onto the pitch - only to miss a penalty in the shoot-out.
JournalSport verdict: Portsmouth are fortunate that Spurs are currently in the midst of their own injury crisis, which will level the field slightly.
Speaking of which, the much-maligned Wembley pitch could have a part to play, both in terms of its effect on injured players and its unpredictable bounce.
However, Spurs have too much quality for any of these factors to be decisive. This could well be a repeat of the recent meeting at the Lane, with Spurs getting the job done fairly early, before easing off and turning their attention to Arsenal.