FFA Cup Flashback: Adelaide City deliver the first Cupset
It was the first time an A-League club had faced a National Premier Leagues opponent in the FFA Cup...it was also the competition’s very first ‘Cupset’.
As the host was one of the most decorated clubs in Australian football history – the three-time National Soccer League Champions, three-time NSL Cup winners, and winners of the 1987 Oceania Club Championship, Adelaide City.
In contrast, the visiting Wanderers were the new super club on the rise, with a growing army of passionate supporters, an A-League Premiership (2012/13) already in the trophy cabinet and soon to become the first Australian club to win the AFC Champions League.
Over 2,500 fans arrived at Marden Sports Complex to see firsthand just how ‘old soccer’ would stack up against ‘new football’ in the no-second-chances setting of the FFA Cup.
What followed became the stuff of legend as the Zebras stunned their more-fancied opponents 1-0 and deliver the first major upset of the competition.
Adelaide City's road to the Round of 32
Guided by then all-time Socceroos leading goal scorer Damian Mori as coach, City were South Australia’s sole non-A-League representative in the Round of 32.
The qualifying path had been tough as the Zebras saw off five fellow NPL South Australia opponents to return to the national stage - including defending NPL SA Premiers MetroStars, and traditional rivals West Adelaide.
However, their league form had been erratic, winning less than half of their 25 NPLSA fixtures to date and already out of Finals contention.
Their side featured former Adelaide United midfielder Matthew Mullen, former Australian youth international Joel Allwright, and the team's influential talisman Nicholas Bucco.
Also in the team was 18-year-old midfielder Thomas Love, a rising talent of the local competition about to forever earn a place in FFA Cup folklore.
Western Sydney Wanderers ready for first FFA Cup assignment
Deep in the midst of what would prove a history making Champions League campaign, Tony Popovic’s men were considered amongst the favourites for the inaugural FFA Cup title.
Reaching the previous two A-League Grand Finals, the Wanderers squad included a raft of Socceroos and rising talents including the recently capped Tomi Juric up front, captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the backline, Ante Covic in goal, and the always dangerous Mark Bridge on the bench.
The club had parted ways with Japanese legend Shinji Ono in the off-season, and were without injured defender Matthew Spiranovic, but there was no denying they were the favourites heading into the clash.
City Hang On For Hope
The Wanderers asserted themselves early on the contest but only found frustration as a stubborn City defence absorbed the pressure of their repeated raids.
All told the Wanderers would win the corner count 10-0, and the shot count by even more as City mustered just three shots all night, but they could simply find no way past City goalkeeper Ryan Veitch and a tireless City defence.
City’s threat was more intermittent – seeing an early second-half strike rubbed out for offside – but in cup football often it is just one chance taken can make all the difference.
And so it proved.
City Take Their Chance
The defining moment came with 15 minutes remaining on the clock as Matthew Halliday picked out Thomas Love on half way.
The youngster then delivered a run still talked of glowingly to this day – audaciously backing himself as he beat five Wanderers defenders and then slotted a cool finish beneath the onrushing Covic.
Post-match, Love relayed the ecstasy of netting the goal: “It’s one of the happiest moments of my life.
He explained of the goal, “Basically I just saw the space and ran for it. I was planning to pass it off…but I saw the opportunity so I thought I might as well take it.”
City supporters will be forever thankful that he did.
What Happened After
Buoyed by their historic win, City followed it up by eliminating old NSL rivals Brisbane Strikers in the Round of 16 with another hard-fought 1-0 result.
However, their first FFA Cup run drew to a close in the Quarter Finals in a heart-breaking extra time away defeat to Bentleigh Greens weeks later.
Future FFA Cup campaigns would not prove as kind for City though, with the club returning to the national stage for the first time since in 2021.
For the Wanderers, the bitterness of defeat proved a potential spur to their history-making AFC Champions League success just months later as they accounted for Guangzhou Evergrande and FC Seoul before a memorable win in the two-legged Final over Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal.