On Saturday, England's historic FA Cup resumed 5th round action for the right to play in the quarterfinals. The FA Cup is a tournament just as great as March Madness as far as Cinderella's go. Hundreds of teams from the highest leagues to the lowest leagues compete to make their way to Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup Final.
Liverpool, a Barclays Premier League team, was given a rather easy opponent at home in the FA Cup Draw. Instead of Arsenal, Manchester United, or Portsmouth, they were given Championship side Barnsley, 1 tier below the Premiership. Many expected a cakewalk (despite the fact that they rested 3 normal starters for their UEFA Champions League match against Inter Milan), as Liverpool have been tremendous at Anfield, 5th in the Premiership table, and Barnsley continue to fight off relegation to League 1.
The match started out well for the Reds, as Ryan Babel put a teasing ball in the box and Dirk Kuyt scored from nearly point blank range for a 1-0 lead 31 minutes in. In the 2nd half, Liverpool continued to press, Ryan Babel, Lucas, Peter Crouch, they all missed their opportunities to salt this game away. Barnsley, with one of their few chances in that span, converted in front of the famous Kop end of the pitch, in which thousands of Liverpool fans gather to watch their team. Stephen Foster sent his header in to make it 1-1.
Harry Kewell had a chance in the 83rd minute to make it 2-1 for Liverpool....but the crossbar denied him glory. In stoppage time, with seconds remaining, it seemed as if the match was destined to be replayed at Barnsley's ground. Barnsley were furious at referee Martin Atkinson's non foul call on Brian Howard in the penalty box, which could've given Barnsley a chance to shock Liverpool on their home ground. Barnsley maintained possession, and with the last kick of the game, it was Howard who got back up, dribbled past his defender, and fired a low driving shot past goalkeeper Charles Itandje and into the net. In front of the Kop yet again, with no time to do much else, manager Simon Davey's Barnsley squad had shocked the country, and had won at Liverpool 2-1 in a dramatic finish. Barnsley are in the quarterfinals, and have a chance to slay Chelsea to advance to the semi-finals and continue this magical run.
For Rafa Benitez, Liverpool's manager, that could've been it for him, he was on the hot seat after that poor performance with most of their normal starters playing. Luckily, in their home match against Inter Milan on Tuesday, Liverpool scored twice in the last 5 minutes to win 2-0. The win has since eased off talks about his job. But still, with their Premier League form reeling, and their lack of goals, Benitez is still under some form of hot water, as Liverpool are struggling to hold on to a UEFA Cup spot.
As for Barnsley, in a season in which they are clinging to 20th, and hoping they don't get sent down to League 1 yet again, this will go down as one of their greatest victories in club history, and perhaps one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history. A win against Chelsea, and they'll be one of the most unlikely FA Cup semi-finalists in history. A saving grace for a miserable league season.
Another wonderful tale coming to life in the FA Cup.