Imagine the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with 736 teams instead of the 68 that currently make up the bracket. Now, that’s not going to happen, nor should it, but instead what it is is the Football Association Cup, otherwise known as the FA Cup.
The FA Cup is one of the best tournament in sports in the world and I would argue that it’s even better than the UEFA Champions League. Every soccer/football club in England and Wales has a shot in the tournament, no matter how small that chance might be. And those small clubs have a shot to play, and even host, the bigger Premiere League clubs in the tournament, and that’s where the “magic” of the FA Cup comes into play.
And that’s exactly what happened this past weekend.
The fourth round of the FA Cup, one round after the “big fish” Premiere League teams join the competition, saw number of those top Premiere League teams go down. It started on Friday with Cambridge United, the lowest ranked team remaining in the tournament managing a 0-0 draw at home against storied Manchester United.
From there, it would only get worse for Premiere League sides.
Manchester City were utterly taken to task at home against Middlesborough in a 2-0 loss to eliminate the defending Premiere League champs. And then the upset of the tournament thus far came from London and Stamford Bridge where Premiere League leaders Chelsea managed to blow a 2-0 lead, allowing League 1 (the third tier of English football) side Bradford City to score four unanswered goals, including three in the final 20 minutes of play, to lose 4-2 in a shocker.
And for a quick cross reference to American sports, this is like two No. 1 seeds falling to No. 16 seeds (something that hasn’t actually happened yet) in the NCAA tournament. In other words, this is huge.
Arsenal saved the Premiere League some with a 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion, though Albion held it close for almost the entire match.
But this is what makes the FA Cup so great and so entertaining to watch. This is a chance for the small clubs to take it to the big boys and spring a giant upset or two and see if they can make an improbable run towards the cup. Two years ago, it wasn’t Chelsea or Manchester City or Arsenal holding the cup after the final in May; instead, it was Wigan Athletic celebrating at Wembley Stadium when it was all said and done (though they were regulated from the Premiere League that season as well).
And with two of the major Premiere League teams now out of the competition and another two giants facing possible elimination in replays after they’re 0-0 draws, there’s a pretty good chance that somebody new, or at least someone who hasn’t won the tournament in recent history, could be the one hoisting the cup this May.
That’s what makes this tournament so exciting and such a must-watch when ever the next round is played (if you can find it on television of course). It’s the NCAA tournament of England and Wales, but with a whole lot more teams and a whole lot more upsets and Cinderellas.