Opportunities to reach an FA Cup final do not come around often, especially for the likes of Portsmouth, West Bromwich Albion, Cardiff City and Barnsley, who will be battling out this weekend’s semifinals at Wembley.
The unlikely last-four line-up should provide two fascinating ties, with Championship (second division) Cardiff, Barnsley and West Brom all harbouring genuine hopes of lifting the famous old trophy.
On Saturday promotion-chasing West Brom face Portsmouth, the only Premier League team to survive this season’s Cup carnage, while 24 hours later Barnsley and Cardiff clash.
It is the first time since 1908 that only one team from the top flight have reached the semifinals and should favourites Portsmouth stumble it would mean the first FA Cup final not involving a member of the elite since English league football began in 1888/89.
Barnsley’s victories over Liverpool and holders Chelsea, Cardiff’s superb quarterfinal display against Middlesbrough and the heroics of minor league club Havant and Waterlooville have helped make this FA Cup season a feast for football romantics fed up with ”big-four” domination.
Portsmouth’s quarterfinal win at Manchester United has put the famous naval city in sight of a first Cup final since 1939.
Pompey will be without prolific striker Jermain Defoe who is ineligible, having played for Tottenham Hotspur before joining Portsmouth in January, but manager Harry Redknapp has plenty more firepower to call on and some experienced Cup winners such as central defender Sol Campbell.
”I’ve got [Nwankwo] Kanu, [Milan] Baros and [Kevin] Nugent, so I’ve got plenty of options up there,” Redknapp told the Portsmouth website.
West Brom, the most successful Cup side remaining with five wins, boast one of the best strikers outside the Premier League in former England man Kevin Phillips, and Redknapp is taking nothing for granted.
”Phillips is a quality finisher who could still be playing in the Premier league,” said Redknapp. ”West Brom will raise their game and be dangerous.”
Cardiff, the only team from Wales to win the FA Cup when they beat Arsenal in 1927, will have former England winger Trevor Sinclair and Dutch striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in their ranks against Barnsley, although Liverpool’s former hitman, Robbie Fowler, has been struggling with injury.
The Welsh club had a scare on Tuesday when top scorer Paul Parry hurt his hamstring in a league match against West Brom but manager Dave Jones expects him to play against Barnlsey.
”We took Paul off as a precaution as he was having a problem with his hamstring,” Jones told the Western Mail. ”Looking at Sunday, well, if I was going to play in an FA Cup semifinal I think I would play even if I had a broken leg.”
Should Cardiff win, the Football Association have said they may relax their rules and allow them to take their place in the Uefa Cup. The FA’s historical position is that only English teams could qualify for Europe through a Cup win.
Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele, who made a sensational debut in the 2-1 defeat of Liverpool in round five, was relieved when the club were paired with Cardiff in the semis.
Had they played West Brom, from whom he is on loan, FA rules would have meant he could not have played.
The nightmare scenario that he misses the FA Cup final could still happen, although his first priority will be helping the club to a first FA Cup final since they won it in 1912. — Reuters