A meeting of two of the FA Cup's most decorated sides – Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC – tops the bill when the third round of the world's oldest association football competition kicks off this weekend.
Though qualifying started back in September, it is only now that the big boys enter the fray. There are few bigger than United and Liverpool, winners of this prestigious trophy 11 – more than any other club – and seven times respectively. One, though, will be out at their first hurdle this time around.
Sir Alex Ferguson has masterminded success in a competition which first began in 1871 on five occasions, but has a seven-year itch to scratch – starting against United's fierce rivals at Old Trafford on Sunday lunchtime. "It is an important trophy so there is a strong desire to get our hands on it," he said. "We haven't won it since 2004, or been to Wembley in the final since we lost to Chelsea in 2007. So we definitely want to get back there and win it."
That 2007 showpiece defeat marked the start of three FA Cups in four years for Chelsea FC, who begin their latest defence against Championship outfit Ipswich Town FC. The odd one out for the Blues was 2008, when they were shocked in the quarter-finals by second tier Barnsley FC.
Herein lies the essence of the competition's appeal: the upset. From Hereford United FC beating Newcastle FC in 1972, to Wimbledon FC's final victory over league champions Liverpool in 1988, the potential for a giant-killing is what makes fans of every club that enters dream of going all the way to Wembley.
Elsewhere in Europe...
Though it is the father of them all which takes centre stage this weekend, UEFA.com casts an eye over some of Europe's other most illustrious cup competitions.
Coupe de France
Since 1917 the French Cup has proved as egalitarian as its English counterpart – 7,449 clubs entered this year's competition, which continues in the round of 64 this weekend. Unsurprisingly Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain FC rank as the tournament's most successful sides, yet EA Guingamp proved in 2009 that cup romance is not dead as they became only the second team from outside the top flight to take the title.
Copa del Rey
FC Barcelona are well placed to add to their haul of 25 cup successes next May having reached the quarter-finals at the expense of the tournament's second most decorated outfit, Athletic Club (23), on Wednesday. Running since 1902, the Copa was Spain's premier competition until the Liga was created 27 years later. Among the other sides appearing in the last eight this term are holders Sevilla FC and 17-time winners Real Madrid CF.
Parma FC are already assured of a last-eight berth with the remaining spots decided between 12 and 20 January. Though Holders FC Internazionale Milano host Genoa CFC, it is AS Roma's fixture against S.S. Lazio which catches the eye – only Juventus can match the Giallorossi's nine Coppa Italia triumphs since the competition was founded in 1922.
FC Bayern München are still on course to defend their title having eliminated SV Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart in the previous two rounds. "A cup match is always something special; death or glory, you are either in or out," said coach Louis van Gaal. Bayern, the most successful team in the competition's 75-year-old history, will not find their path to a 16th title blocked by Borussia Dortmund – the runaway Bundesliga leaders were knocked out by third tier Offenbacher Kickers 1901.
Scotland were just two years behind their counterparts south of the border, inaugurating their cup competition in 1873. Celtic FC (34) edge eternal rivals Rangers FC by just one in the list of all-time winners, with both sides looking to advance from the fourth round this weekend. The Irish Cup was established in 1880/81 and the Netherlands' KNVB Cup was initially contested in 1898. AFC Ajax (18) have lifted the trophy seven more times than any other team.
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