Sound the bell because the Hyundai A-League heavyweights are coming to ringside for the final night of FFA Cup 2019 Round of 32 action.
Eleven teams have locked their place in among the nation’s elite 16. Now eight Hyundai A-League teams battle it out for the final five places in the country’s biggest sporting knockout competition.
Of course, National Premier Leagues upstarts Melbourne Knights and Brisbane Strikers will aim to stun the nation by landing a knockout blow to one of Australia’s powerhouses.
The fighting, reigning and defending champions, Adelaide United, are one of those seeking to avoid a fall against an underdog in the first, while Wellington Phoenix will need to have their guard up after suffering a crushing blow against NPL opposition last year.
It will also be a night of unveilings, as several new head coaches take to the dugout for the first time in a competitive encounter, and countless new signings will be out to impress on their debuts in fresh team colours.
Let’s go through the card for this FFA Cup extravaganza:
Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar
The Robbie Fowler era begins with perhaps the toughest FFA Cup clash Brisbane Roar could have dreamed up: an away game against 2018/19 Hyundai A-League Champions and 2018 FFA Cup runners-up, Sydney FC.
There is no dramatic overhaul to the roster Steve Corica assembled for his title-winning rookie season as head coach. Josh Brillante has departed but Luke Brattan should step in comfortably alongside Brandon O’Neill in midfield.
Netherlands international Siem de Jong and club icon Alex Brosque have been replaced with Alex Baumjohann and Kosta Barbarouses, which is arguably an upgrade, and Ryan McGowan comes in to strengthen the defence.
It’s a tough ask for a Brisbane Roar side with 13 new faces blended in with the left overs of their ninth-placed 2018/19 side that conceded the most goals in the Hyundai A-League. Their 71 against was 42 more than Sydney FC’s 29.
The likes of Roy O’Donovan, Tom Aldred, Jay O’Shea and Brad Inman are capable of doing some damage in orange, but Fowler will need his new recruits to gel quickly as a unit to stand any chance of catching the Sky Blues off guard.
Melbourne Victory v Newcastle Jets
All eyes will be on Caltex Socceroos forward Andrew Nabbout if he starts for Melbourne Victory against his former employer Newcastle Jets.
Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna admitted he would have loved to have brought the ex-Urawa Red Diamonds striker back from Japan to the Hunter, but Nabbout ended up back at his hometown team, who he debuted for back in 2012.
Nabbout may not have pulled on a Victory shirt for four years but international teammate Robbie Kruse has not donned the jersey for eight. If the Caltex Socceroos pair start alongside Swedish marquee man Ole Toivonen, it will be fascinating to see how the trio combine. That’s not to mention, how will head coach Marco Kurz put his mark on Victory?
The Hyundai A-League Grand Final 2018 seems like a long time ago for Newcastle fans. After suffering heartbreak at the hands of Victory then missing finals football in 2018/19, Ernie Merrick’s men will be desperate to deliver a bounce-back season. Can Newcastle make an early statement in the FFA Cup?
Melbourne Knights v Adelaide United
The FFA Cup kings begin their title defence at a potentially raucous 15,000 capacity Knights Stadium in Melbourne.
The only two-time winners will be aiming to rewrite the record books as first team to defend the trophy, and lift the cup an unprecedented third time.
New head coach Gertjan Verbeek has continuity within his squad but the Reds have lost some big weapons in Isaias, Craig Goodwin and Scott Galloway. But throw Riley McGree, Michael Maria and Kristian Opseth into the mix and there is every chance this season’s squad could be just as strong.
The 2018/19 Hyundai A-League Semi Finalists travel to face an NPL Victoria club that are hovering in mid table this season. They have performed on the national stage twice before and will need to deliver the match of their lives to stun the reigning champions.
Brisbane Strikers v Wellington Phoenix
It’s been a huge off-season of change at Wellington Phoenix and Ufuk Talay’s new-look side may be the most unpredictable heading into the 2019/20 Hyundai A-League season.
The Kiwi club go into the new campaign with freshly appointed captain Steven Taylor leading the rearguard and a new-look forward line, potentially pairing a mercurial Mexican, Ulises Davila, with a striker capable of the spectacular in David Ball.
The few Nix players remaining from last season's magical campaign may still be haunted about the way it started out. A 1-0 Round of 32 loss to NPL Victoria club Bentleigh Greens added Wellington to the infamous list of Hyundai A-League teams to fall to state league opposition.
The hosts, Brisbane Strikers, will take confidence from that occasion. NPL Queensland's 2016 and 2017 Premiers have fallen off the top in the past couple of seasons but, after a two year absence from the FFA Cup Round of 32, Owen Baker's side will be determined to make their fourth appearance at this level their most memorable.
Perth Glory v Western Sydney Wanderers
What happens when you take the Hyundai A-League's top scorers, 56 goals in the 2018/19 regular season, and add one of the most lethal strikers the league has ever seen?
We may find out if Bruno Fornaroli makes his competitive debut for the Hyundai A-League Premiers against head coach Tony Popovic's former club.
The Western Australians are another example of consistency over the off-season, with just a few tweaks to their starting line up expected, although Popovic will need to find a solution to cover departed left wing-back Jason Davidson.
After an underwhelming eighth-place finish in Markus Babbel's debut season, it could be time for the German coach to push his Western Sydney charges to the next level. The introduction of two new signings may make a significant impact for the Wanderers.
Swiss midfield general Pirmin Schwegler might be on patrol against Glory’s tormentors and Radi Majewski is a Polish playmaker capable of the type of magic that can flip a match in a moment, which Wanderers may need in the absence of frontman Mitchell Duke.