Francis Benali opens up on the pain of losing the 2003 FA Cup final to Arsenal, the mystery of his runners-up medal and why Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men can banish the ghosts of the 9-0 Leicester loss to make the final again
- Francis Benali was part of the last Southampton team to make a major final
- Benali watched on at the Millennium Stadium in 2003 as Arsenal won the FA Cup
- To this day the club legend still is not sure where his runners-up medal resides
- Southampton can right a few wrongs and make the final again this season
Francis Benali looks sheepish when asked where he keeps his FA Cup runners-up medal.
The Southampton legend was part of the side who reached the club’s last final in 2003.
It was his final season for Saints, his last competitive appearance of 389 coming in the fourth round against Millwall. He watched on at the Millennium Stadium as Arsenal triumphed.
Francis Benali spoke with Sportsmail ahead of Southampton’s FA Cup semi-final clash with Leicester – as the club prepare to make their first final since 2003
Benali’s two appearances in the fourth round during the cup run earned him his medal
‘This is going to sound awful, but I’m not sure where my medal is,’ he tells Sportsmail.
‘I can’t put my hand on it. Usually, if I can’t find something I ask my wife and she puts her hand on it straight away.
‘She doesn’t know either! We’ve moved house a couple of times since. I’m worried about it.’
Benali’s two appearances in the fourth round earned him his medal. Saints fans would say his influence on the dressing room would have done that by itself. He was a part of the squad that day, his yellow-and-blue FA Cup final shirt hangs in a frame behind him on the wall.
Saints captain Chris Marsden and boss Gordon Strachan look dejected after the 2003 defeat
Arsene Wenger’s all-conquering Arsenal won the trophy and broke Southampton hearts
‘It was nice to play my part. I felt a part of it. Gordon Strachan was great in keeping me involved. Even if I didn’t feature as a player, hopefully my influence on the dressing room was a positive.
‘The journey was incredible. Reaching the final was something I had always dreamed since I was a boy watching Southampton lift the cup in 1976. The final was everything I ever hoped it would be apart from having to deal with the disappointment of not winning on the day.
‘That silence in the dressing room. No one spoke for so long.’
On Sunday, Southampton have the chance to reach the final again when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side take on Leicester City at Wembley. Win and Chelsea stand in their way.
‘It is really difficult to put into words how much it means to the club and the city, the players, the staff, everyone. It cannot be underestimated. It is a massive thing.
Benali is still adored by Southampton fans and he is regarded as a club legend at St Mary’s
‘To be one step away from another FA Cup final. A semi-final is a massive occasion, it’s just a disappointment that Saints fans won’t be there to create that atmosphere.
‘I remember the mass of yellow and blue against Arsenal (in 2003). To step out at the Millennium Stadium with the roof closed to see our mass of supporters, even after the final whistle when Arsenal’s fans had left but ours stayed there in their thousands. It was a sight I will never forget.’
Southampton are unable to face Leicester these days without being reminded of their 9-0 capitulation at the hands of the Foxes last season. Even though Saints won the return fixture that same campaign, Benali believes the memory of it lingers.
‘It will most definitely be a motivation,’ says Benali, who was born and raised in the city.
‘If I was a player in that dressing room who was part of that dreadful night, that memory would serve as an incentive especially given the occasion. That will never go away, it will always be brought up so by winning this semi-final, it would be a huge step to talking about something more positive.
Under Ralph Hasenhuttl Southampton are on the brink of making the FA Cup final once more
‘We have got two divides at the moment with the FA Cup run and Premier League form.
‘Premier League is pretty dreadful but flip that to the FA Cup where we have not conceded a goal yet and beaten holders Arsenal en route.
‘We know how formidable it’s going to be up against Leicester because they are a very good side. We will have to be at the top of our game to have a chance of going through.’
Watch Leicester City v Southampton in the Emirates FA Cup semi-final exclusively live on BT Sport 1 from 6pm on Sunday. Sign up contract free with a BT Sport Monthly Pass for just £25 per month. For more info visit bt.com/sport
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