Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't hide his frustration as Manchester United began their Premier League season with a shock 2-1 loss at home.
All of the noise this week has been about the finals of the Euros and the Copa America, but in the background, unnoticed by some, the FFA Cup Round of 32 was drawn.
Before we get to the final 32 participants, there will need to be two play-offs between the bottom four A-League sides from last season.
Perth Glory will host Melbourne Victory in one match. This will be Victory’s first serious hit-out under their new coaching team. If they’re to earn back their lost prestige, they will need to take the FFA Cup very seriously. Perth on the other hand, as is their custom, will be flying under everyone’s radar. This will be an intriguing fixture.
The other play-off match will pit Western United against a very much revitalised Newcastle Jets. The Jets have been on the front foot since their season ended and have added new coaching staff as well as some experienced players from around the country. No-one should be surprised if the Jets go deep into the Cup.
Dates are to be advised for both fixtures. In fact none of the Round of 32 have dates assigned to them yet.
This season the FFA Cup has been regionalised which, depending on how old you are or where you live, may be a good or a bad thing. I’d like to see things played out first of all before making up my mind.
Zone 1: East
Sydney Olympic FC (NPL NSW) vs Sydney FC (A-League)
Broadmeadow Magic FC (NPL Northern NSW) vs Western Sydney Wanderers FC (A-League)
Tigers FC (NPL Capital Football) vs APIA Leichhardt FC (NPL NSW)
Blacktown City FC (NPL NSW) vs Central Coast Mariners (A-League)
Mt Druitt Town Rangers FC (NPL NSW) vs Wollongong Wolves FC (NPL NSW)
Newcastle Olympic FC (NPL Northern NSW) vs Macarthur FC (A-League)
There are some very interesting games in this group, but none more so than the clashes between the A-League sides and the NPL sides.
Sydney Olympic are in the prime position to cause a major upset. They will have everything in their favour – home ground advantage, a very large and vocal set of supporters and an in-form and firing team on the park. Sydney FC, on the other hand, will be in preseason mode, with players still waiting to hit peak form. As with most A-League clubs, I suspect their youth team players will be given an opportunity to show what they are capable of.
Olympic will never have a better opportunity to show off their ambitions to become a member of the proposed national second division. They should defeat Sydney FC if they are good enough.
The same could be said of the other matches between NPL and A-League sides.
The top-of-the-table Broadmeadow Magic will come up against a Wanderers side that, to be fair, have failed to impress consistently last A-League season. Again the draw favours the Magic. If A-League sides are going to fall, this is the round in which it will happen.
Blacktown City will tackle the Mariners. Based solely on last season’s effort and despite the loss of Alen Stajcic, the Mariners should prevail. Having said that, Blacktown are in good form – or they were before their season got delayed due to the COVID situation. The last points they dropped were in a 2-2 home draw way back on 30 May against Manly.
Newcastle Olympic take on the Macarthur Bulls. This is one fixture I can safely say will go the way of the A-League side. No disrespect to the Newcastle boys, but the Bulls will want to reinforce their good start to life in the A-League. They won’t go in unprepared for the Novocastrian lads.
As for the remaining two games, they’re hard to call – but these are the matches I’m looking forward to most of all. I have no idea of who their players are or what form they’re in. My thoughts for this group is that the results will be split, three A-League sides and three NPL sides. Either the Wanderers or Sydney FC will or could slip up.
Zone 2: North
Lions FC (NPL QLD) vs Casuarina FC (NorZone Premier League)
Edge Hill United (FQN Northern Mens Premier League) vs Gold Coast Knights (NPL QLD)
Peninsula Power (NPL QLD) vs Brisbane Roar FC (A-League)
The Peninsula Power appear to be running away with the league and will provide a stern test for the Brisbane Roar. This fixture could provide a surprising result. The A-League side will likely have too much overall experience and determination to fail here, though the Power will be no easy pushover.
Everything is in favour of the local NPL side. If there is to be a boil, over this is the round for it to happen.
I don’t have enough local knowledge to cast an honest eye over the other two games. Maybe some locals can voice their opinions in the comments.
Zone 3: South
Wellington Phoenix (A-League) vs Western United or Newcastle Jets (A-League)
Avondale FC (NPL VIC) vs Devonport City Strikers (NPL Tasmania)
Hume City FC (NPL VIC) vs Port Melbourne Sharks FC (NPL VIC)
South Melbourne FC (NPL VIC) vs Melbourne City FC (A-League)
This clash between A-League sides will see the Nix front up against the Jets. It will be interesting to see how many turn up on the back of their home matches, which saw great crowds in both Wellington and Auckland. Whether the 20,000 or 5000 turn up, I’m pretty sure they will win.
The high flying Avondale should account for Devonport City, but the magic of the Cup is in its Cinderella stories, and an extended run by a Tasmanian side be just that. It’d give a shot in the arm for a future team from Tasmania entering either the national second division or even the A-League.
A point separates Hume City and Port Melbourne on the league table, so this should be a game worth watching to see how good they really are. League form doesn’t always carry into the Cup, but if this isn’t a tight game, we will all be surprised.
And we come down to the most mouth-watering of matches in this group: the reigning Australian champions, Melbourne City, up against one of Australia’s better performing former NSL clubs, South Melbourne. A lot of us have heard the voices from the past trying to explain how good these teams were in their day and why they should be respected. But that was yesterday, and this match will be played in the present.
If South Melbourne were to draw a massive crowd and put on a performance that rivals an A-League fixture, it’d go a long way to reinforcing their push for inclusion into the national second division. Only time will tell.
Zone 4: West
ECU Joondalup SC (NPL WA) vs Adelaide Olympic FC (NPL SA)
Adelaide City FC (NPL SA) vs Perth Glory or Melbourne Victory (A-League)
Floreat Athena (NPL WA) vs Adelaide United (A-League)
I will try and put my Adelaide bias to one side here, but I know a little more about the the Adelaide sides than the West Australian teams. ECU Joondalup at home to Adelaide Olympic seems like a cut and dry affair, with the home team holding all the cards. Adelaide Olympic are nowhere near their best, and I can’t see them producing a win, which would be an upset.
Adelaide City will battle it out with the winner of a play-off match, which is too tight to call. But no matter who the winners are, they’ll find a City team a handful, albeit not capable of matching it with any A-League side.
Floreat Athena meet a very youthful and generally inexperienced Adelaide United, but that young side will come with a sprinkling of A-League experience. Floreat Athena are not in good form but will battle hard. This current crop of youngsters at United will go deep into the Cup, as they have done on so many other occasions.
There you have it: the Round of 32. The dates are yet to be determined, but there are so many mouth-watering games to look forward to. The winners of this round go into an open draw, something the purists, like myself, have called for from the beginning.
This competition is unique in Australian football codes. No other code can contemplate minnows from the back blocks of football playing for a spot in an international competition like the Asian Champions League. This is what we, who love the sport, long to happen.