London – With a squad assembled for barely 7,500 pounds ($12,000), Bradford can become the first fourth-division club in more than 50 years to reach England's League Cup final on Tuesday.
A 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in their semifinal first leg was the latest in a string of stunning cup results for Bradford this season.
“People in the U.K. love an underdog and that's why we're getting so much support,” goalkeeper Matt Duke said. “So many people we've met have said, 'Well done' and wished us luck for the second leg ... it seems like the entire nation is behind us now.”
Since being relegated from the Premier League in 2001, Bradford has plummeted down the divisions - it is currently 10th in League Two - and endured financial turmoil.
Finally, there is a glimmer of good news.
Having eliminated Wigan and Arsenal, the northern club has more victories against Premier League sides this season than Queens Park Rangers has in the top flight, where it is bottom with two wins.
“Beating Wigan Athletic, Arsenal, and now leading Aston Villa is beyond what anyone expected - it's been amazing,” Duke said. “Every minnow that goes as far as we have in a major competition has to enjoy some good fortune along the way and we're no different, but we've earned our place in the last four.”
Even if Villa stages a comeback in the second leg, Bradford would be hoping to hold out until penalties since the team has won its last nine shootouts - including against Arsenal.
“There really isn't any special secret to saving them,” Duke said.
Not since Rochdale in 1962 has a fourth-division reached the final, but Duke is trying to put aside premature thoughts about playing at Wembley Stadium.
“When I do so, I quickly stop myself,” Duke said.
Villa might be struggling in the Premier League - sitting one place and one point above the relegation zone - but manager Paul Lambert is hoping that playing at home at the 43,000-capacity Villa Park will help his team's recovery.
“With a big pitch and a crowd behind us, hopefully we will be able to score more than we did up in Bradford,” Lambert said. “We had a lot of chances up at Bradford. If we can create that amount of chances, then we'll be close.
“If we get through, the confidence will be great. The feeling around the club will be massive.”
There was also an upset in the other semifinal, with European champion Chelsea collapsing 2-0 in the first leg at home to Premier League rival Swansea two weeks ago.
And heading into the second leg on Wednesday, defender Gary Cahill fears that fatigue is taking its toll on a Chelsea side that has already played 38 games this season.
“It's demanding because you want to go into a game feeling 100
percent -that is your best chance to get the best result and play at your best,” Cahill said. “But at the minute it's impossible to feel 100 percent fresh. It's difficult but we can't use it as an excuse.”
Chelsea did, however, strengthen its grip on third place by beating Arsenal 2-1 in the Premier League on Sunday.
“We dug in and got the result against Arsenal and sometimes you need to do that - the other night against Southampton we didn't,” Cahill said, referring to last week's 2-2 draw. “That's the positive to take out of it. We possess the players and the class to hurt teams.”
Swansea held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw at home in the league in November and a repeat result would put the south Wales club in a major cup final for the first time.
“It's such a big game for us as individuals and as a club. We went up there, did really well and we have set ourselves up nicely,” Swansea defender Ashley Williams. “But we know the job is not done and it will be as tough here as it was up there. They will come at us and we will be ready for that.” – Sapa-AP