Chelsea's Drogba answers criticism with inspired display
LONDON (Reuters) - Didier Drogba produced a masterful display of the centre forward arts on Wednesday to shoot Chelsea into their first Champions League final and answer the criticism of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard described Drogba as a serial diver in the build-up to the second leg of their semi-final at Stamford Bridge, an accusation that has dogged the muscular Ivory Coast captain since he arrived in London from Olympique Marseilles.
"He (Drogba) is very, very strong but he falls down. He slips a lot," Benitez had told reporters on Tuesday. "Everybody can see this every game, it is very clear..."
Liverpool's manager must have wished he had kept his thoughts to himself as the 30-year-old striker turned in a performance of power and strength to end the Spaniard's hopes of a third Champions League final in his Anfield reign.
"...Benitez is a fantastic coach one of the best in the world and I was a little disappointed but perhaps he thought his team wasn't strong enough," Drogba said of Benitez's remarks after Chelsea's 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
"It (the publicity over Benitez's comments) does nothing for my image and I am doing everything to promote English football, and it is not good and not fair but it is finished now."
Drogba has scored 18 goals in the Champions League during his Chelsea career, six of them this season. When he stays on his feet, as he mostly managed to on Wednesday, there are few better strikers in world football.
Fernando Torres, Liverpool's prolific Spaniard, did cancel out Drogba's clinical 33rd-minute opener, but it was Drogba who won their personal duel for superiority.
After crashing a shot inside Pepe Reina's near post Drogba stormed towards the Liverpool technical area, sliding to his knees in front of Benitez. The stare said everything, the message was crystal clear.
It was not just his hold-up play and his power in attack that caught the eye. When he was not marauding towards the Liverpool goal he proved a useful addition to Chelsea's rearguard.
One tackle on Dirk Kuyt in the first half when the Dutch forward was about to shoot would have had Chelsea skipper John Terry purring with delight.
His second strike to give Chelsea a two-goal margin in extra time was a blur of movement as he connected first time with a low cross from Nicolas Anelka.
Drogba now has his sights on Manchester United in next month's Moscow showpiece and is determined to make up for his previous European final when he was part of the Marseilles team beaten in the UEFA Cup by Benitez's Valencia in 2004.
"I would rather lose in the semi-final than a final in Europe," Drogba told reporters. "The semi-final you are upset for two or three days but to lose a final hurts for years."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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