The FFA Cup is back, with the preliminary rounds whittling down hundreds of clubs across Australia down to 22, who now get the chance to match it with the best. The draw for the Round of 32 was held Wednesday, with some intriguing match ups, and Iíve picked out my five to watch (in no particular order). Do you agree?
Darwin Olympic V Adelaide United
This is one of my favourites, not just because Adelaide is my team, but for the reason Northern Territoryís first representative gets to host the defending champion. Darwin Olympic currently sits second in the NT Norzone Premier League, and cruised through qualifying with 32 goals in five games, while conceding seven. Against United the same free-flowing scoring should not be expected, but in drawing a big name club, which itself has been building a relationship with the Northern Territory through sponsorship, this is a big game for the home team. Michael Tsounias looms as Olympicís star man, 11 goals from nine appearances in all competitions this season, while Kevin Menda Kabangu and Peter Roditis could just as easily threaten United up front. Adelaide proved they take the competition seriously so there may not be a fairy tale finish for Olympic, but this could help NT football grow.
Balmain Tigers FC V Melbourne Victory
Truly a David V Goliath, Balmain currently sit seventh in the NSW State League 1, and hosting the defending A-League Champions and Premiers in Melbourne Victory is very much a terrifying prospect. Balmain scored 16 goals in their four qualifying wins, including three clean sheets and two 5-0 wins, although the club never faced a top NPL side, so the gulf in class could expose them. Regardless, this is a monumental moment for the club, and a good performance would surely be a boost for the players, who are unlikely to ever play in a match bigger than this. For Victory, the question is whether they put in their best line up, or offer some younger stars a chance to impress, although I would bet on them wanting to improve on last yearís quarterfinal appearance, so there will be no sitting back. It could get ugly.
Palm Beach V South Melbourne
Last season Palm Beach made a run to the quarterfinals, before being thumped by Central Coast, and the Gold Coast based club will be ready for another strong performance. This match is all the better as South Melbourne makes a return to the national stage, as one of the potential bolters from the NPL. Travelling north, South Melbourne still go in as favourites for me, as their blistering NPL form has them second, compared to Palm Beach who is in sixth, although their competition has played six games less. In the FFA Cup, South Melbourne scored 22 times in four matches, with Milos Lujic top scoring with five goals. Palm Beach, meanwhile, won two matches on penalties (including a 12-11 thriller in their opening match), but there may not be as much to cheer about this time round in the FFA Cup.
Western Sydney Wanderers V Brisbane Roar
I know, I know, a boring A-League clash, nothing the ĎMagic of the Cupí should be, but this is a must win for both teams. Flunking out last year against Adelaide City, WSW has to do better second time round. Anything less than a win and fans truly be losing their patience. Likewise, Brisbane should be looking to go further than the Round of 16, where they lost to Adelaide United last season, and a win here would hopefully set them up for a good season, and give the club something to be positive about with all the off field drama. If these two bring their A-game, then it could be an entertaining, physical clash with plenty of goals, and as the first cup match at home for WSW fans, it will definitely be a flare-filled night.
Gungahlin United V Sydney Olympic
Possibly a pick from left field, but this match is definitely one of the most enticing, and could be another in the fairy tale category. Having only juts been reinstated in the top tier of ACT football, Gungahlinís NPL form has been nothing too exciting, but their qualifying run saw them beat three of the top four teams in their competition, including a thrilling ET win over ladder-leaders Belconnen. Sydney Olympic, meanwhile, is fourth in the NSW NPL, and their qualifying included wins over fellow NPL sides, and 2014 FFA Cup teams, Manly United and South Coast Wolves. United last season lost to Bentleigh Greens in the Round of 16, but like South Melbourne is a team with high expectations to perform. Gungahlin, not so much, but after ACTís last representative made it to the final 16, local fans would want to match that, if not beat it. The two teams are also the closest in proximity of all the ties, so hopefully a 3 hour drive means Sydney Olympic fans will turn up in good numbers.