Avram Grant saluted Frank Lampard’s bravery after the Chelsea midfielder put his side on course for their first Champions League final.
Lampard capped an emotional return in his first match since his mother’s death when he drove home the extra-time penalty that set up Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Liverpool in the semi-final second-leg at Stamford Bridge.
The England star will attend his mother Pat’s funeral this week and Grant admitted he was proud of his contribution.
“Frank is a brave man. He was very close to his mother. What happened to him, with him it was not easy to take this decision, but he played well and is a little bit happier now,” Grant said.
It was an bittersweet day for Grant as well. The Israeli revealed he was traveling to Auschwitz yesterday in memory of his grandfather, who died in the Holocaust.
“This is the Holocaust Day in my country. My father buried my grandfather with his own hands, so it is not an easy day. I’m proud of what we did and a little bit emotional,” he said.
After being pilloried by fans and pundits for much of his first season in charge, Grant has made history by leading Chelsea to an all-English showdown with Manchester United in Moscow on May 21.
He admitted it was a proud moment and the perfect response to his critics.
“To make history at this club in the first year as manager, with all the difficulties we had and the way we stayed together, means a lot to me,” Grant said. “Not just the fact that we got to the final, but the way we did it. This is moment to say a thank you to everyone. From the owner to all my staff. Since day one there have been so many microscopes on me. I am not against the media. I understand the criticism in the beginning. I didn’t understand it after, but I knew I had to prove more than others. We created history. It is very important for this club and we can still win the title.”
Rafa Benitez’s decision to publicly accuse Didier Drogba of being a diver in the build-up to the second-leg backfired in spectacular fashion, as the Ivorian tore his defense to shreds time and again.
But the Liverpool manager insisted he had no regrets about his comments.
“I don’t think it motivated him. He played for the final. He didn’t need any comments to be ready,” Benitez said. “In the first minutes he was a little frustrated, but I said before he is a player with quality. What more motivation than reaching the final could he have? After the match it is easy to talk. Before the match I needed to say what I thought.”
Benitez had few complaints about his side’s defeat. Instead he bemoaned their bad luck in the first leg when John Arne Riise’s own goal tipped the tie in Chelsea’s favor.
“In extra-time we showed we were strong enough, we had good chances. It was a pity, because we were strong enough mentally and physically. The second goal was really difficult and third goal almost killed the game,” he said. “I need to analyze the penalty, but the referee was OK. I can’t complain. It wasn’t the difference. When we scored I had a lot confidence we could progress. Now we have to think about the future. I’m proud of the team. I think we deserved more over the two legs, especially in the first leg. It would be a big difference to come here at 1-0, rather than 1-1.”