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13/04/2007 No.12
Kevin Pullein
Friday April 13, 2007
  Hope is not lost for underdogs

The shorter the contest, the more likely it is that the weaker competitor will win. If Aidy Boothroyd and Mark Hughes, the managers of Watford and Blackburn, need encouragement for their games against Manchester United and Chelsea, this is it: FA Cup semi-finals must be completed on one day, after extra-time and on penalties if necessary. This means smaller teams have a bigger chance of staging a massive upset.

Professional odds compilers are right to think there is something like a 13% chance of Watford beating Manchester United tomorrow. If a replay was allowed, this would drop to 10%. The reason? If scores are still level at the end of extra-time, the underdogs will always have a better chance of beating the favourites in a penalty shoot-out than they would if the tie was restarted from the beginning on another day.

f FA Cup semi-finals were played over two legs, like League Cup semi-finals, the prospects of Watford eliminating Manchester United would plummet to 6%.

It may or may not be a coincidence that on the very rare occasions when Chelsea are considered to be underdogs they seem to seek to break up the game, making the action time as short as possible. In this season's much-interrupted Champions League tie at Barcelona, for example, the ball was in play for only 41 minutes. The average for a Champions League tie is 57 minutes.

Boothroyd and Hughes probably know that three things must happen if their teams are to reach the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley: their team must play as well as they can, their opponents must not play as well as they can, and they must have at least a little bit of luck. The likelihood of all three things happening on one day is small. The likelihood of them happening on another day as well is smaller still.

On the last five occasions when a serious underdog in an FA Cup semi-final was allowed to take an embarrassed favourite to a replay, the underdog was then beaten. It would have been better to have a penalty shoot-out on the day when everything had been going so well for them.


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