Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Carling Cup

With all the cup competitions out there, it can be difficult figuring out who's involved in what, and whether you should care. The Carling Cup(insultingly named after a Canadian beer), is the ugly step-sister to the FA Cup in England. It is made up of 92 teams, 20 teams from the Premiership, and 24 each from the Championship, League One and League Two. The first five rounds are single match, with extra time and penalty shootout if necessary, and the matchups and home side are decided by random draw. The first round consists of the three lower leagues, with Premiership clubs joining in the second round. Any clubs competing in the Intertoto Cup(don't ask), UEFA Cup or Champions League are exempt from the first two rounds, and join in the third round for a total of 32 clubs(a system of byes is used to ensure that there are exactly 32 teams in the third round). The sixth round(semi-finals), is made up of a home and away leg, with total goals determining the winner, and away goals the tiebreaker, and penalty shootout as the second tiebreaker. The Carling Cup Final is played at Wembley, with extra time and a penalty shootout if necessary. Other than an ugly trophy, the winner of the Carling Cup gets an automatic berth into the UEFA Cup(soon to be Europe League). This doesn't mean much to the Big 4, who usually qualify for the Champions League thanks to their stranglehold in the Premiership. Arsene Wenger has used the competition to groom players like Flamini, Clichy, Almunia, Song, Walcott, Bendtner and Vela. This has injected a new life into the competition, as players who usually don't get a chance to feature try to use the opportunity to impress their manager. The 'Young Guns' practice has led other top sides to use the competition to test their youth.