By Liam Twomey
Those who claim the FA Cup has lost its magic fell quiet to a man on Saturday. Arsenal held their nerve on penalties to keep their dream of ending a humiliating trophy drought - and perhaps even Arsene Wenger's hopes of keeping his job - alive, but only after enduring the most monumental of scares against last season’s inspired winners Wigan Athletic.
Now it is the turn of Hull City and Sheffield United to reassert the enduring lustre of this historic competition. The Tigers have not reached an FA Cup semi-final since 1930. The Blades may be four-time winners, but their last success came in 1925. Neither will want the dream to end here.
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"They've always been a club synonymous with cup runs and playing at a high level, so it's in keeping with their history. As much they're down the leagues now they still have a great fanbase.
“It’s certainly not a given. Normally you’d fancy a Premier League team against a lower division side, but Sheffield United are still seen as a big team. And from Hull’s point of view it’s great for any fan to be in the Premier League, having almost secured the club’s safety, and be on this great cup run. They’ll see playing Sheffield United as a great opportunity to get to the final.”
Whatever the result, it is a match that supporters of several clubs, most notably Newcastle and Southampton, will likely be watching with no small frustration.
The Magpies crashed out of the competition on January 4 after boss Alan Pardew rested Loic Remy, Yohan Cabaye and three of his back four at home to Cardiff City. The Saints made it as far as the fifth round but Mauricio Pochettino picked a shadow side to take on Sunderland and paid the price. Neither club have been in danger of relegation or qualifying for Europe for several months.
"I can't understand why anyone wouldn't take the competition seriously," Owen adds. "Teams like Southampton - I look at that and think it's a waste of what could have been an incredible season. The competition has lost a lot of big-hitters and it's a great opportunity to win something. Is their position in the Premier League going to change much?
"It might go to seventh, eighth or ninth but they're not going to trouble the top teams, so it's a shame that they almost go out of the cup with a whimper."
Owen's bemusement is borne out of past success. He scored two goals in the last 10 minutes of the 2001 FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium to ensure Liverpool emerged victorious from a match Arsenal had dominated, and still considers the experience the greatest of his illustrious career.
"In terms of days you remember for the rest of your life, the FA Cup final [in 2001] was the one for me," he insists. "Scoring two goals against Arsenal when we were dead and buried and lifting that trophy, seeing the joy on everyone's faces and the party afterwards - it was just a magical day and I still think about it a lot now.
"You can play in World Cups and other big games as I have, but that one day was special. What made it so memorable was that we were outplayed for many parts of the game.
"It's one thing scoring a goal in the first minute or the 10th minute, but the excitement and adrenaline that pumps through your veins when you score in the last few minutes to take the cup away from your opponents and lift it a few minutes later - those 15 minutes were among the best of my life."
Hull and Sheffield United are only one step away from a chance to claim the glory Owen savours to this day, and will take heart from knowing that this competition rewards those willing to seize their destiny.
Fans can watch The FA Cup semi final between Hull City and Sheffield United exclusively live from 3pm on BT Sport 1 this Sunday. BT Sport is free with BT broadband, to find out more visit www.btsport.com
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