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EVERTON and Manchester City will make the trip south to Wembley on Sunday, when the 2019-20 Women’s FA Cup will finally crown its champion.
It is a final full of storylines and a game that could attract a large global audience thanks to the participation of some of the biggest stars in world football.
The tournament began in August 2019 and at one point looked like it might not be completed. The FA had to apply for special dispensation from Fifa in order to finish the competition even as the next season began.
Four preliminary and qualifying rounds for the 2020-21 FA Cup have already been played, with the third round of qualifying scheduled to take place on the same day as the 2020 final.
Fifa gave the green light, and it has proven to be a successful move for the association. These high-profile games are being played alongside the start of a new Women’s Super League (WSL) season which has received increased attention thanks to a number of world-class signings made by English clubs.
Several of these players could be on show in this final, including City’s Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis, both World Cup winners with the United States in 2019.
Everton also made a shrewd signing early in 2020 in the shape of Australian international winger Hayley Raso. The transfer of her compatriot Sam Kerr to Chelsea around the same time drew more headlines, and Kerr is widely considered one of the best in the world, but Raso has arguably been the more impressive of the two at the start of the new season.
This argument was strengthened when Everton knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup at the quarter-finals stage in a memorable match at Goodison Park in September, where another excellent new signing, French forward Valerie Gauvin, scored the winner.
Despite this influx of stars from abroad, one of the standout players at the start of the new season has been an English player who moved from Everton to Manchester City in the summer, Chloe Kelly.
Much of the focus around this final will naturally fall on the forward who, such has been the strange, disrupted nature of the past two seasons, even played for Everton in the early rounds of the competition.
Kelly has been lighting up games with entertaining skills, often cutting in from the left wing, and can be a goal threat from this position as demonstrated by a highlight-reel strike against Spurs. She will be a big threat to her former club’s hopes of lifting the cup on Sunday.
Usual rules around players being cup-tied were scrapped as this tournament straddles two seasons, so another similar storyline could emerge via City’s versatile 20-year-old defender Esme Morgan.
Morgan scored for Everton in the 2019-20 FA Cup while on loan on Merseyside from City, and could now face them in the final.
On the other side of this coin, Everton attacking midfielder Izzy Christiansen spent four years at City before joining perennial European Champions Lyon. She returned to England and Everton at the start of this year.
“Izzy Christiansen played a massive part of what we’ve built here at City,” City captain Steph Houghton, speaking to the club’s website, said of her former teammate.
“She scored in the 2014 Conti Cup Final and 2017 FA Cup Final.
“She’s started the season really well for Everton and got herself back into the England set-up, which I’m sure was a goal and aspiration for her and probably one of the things that prompted her move back to England.
“She’s a familiar face but we hope to keep the Everton players quiet!”
The two sides met recently in the League Cup, with City emerging victorious against a much-changed Everton line-up as Lavelle scored her first goal for the club, while Kelly also got her name on the scoresheet.
It was Everton’s first and only defeat since football restarted in September. Willie Kirk’s side have won an impressive six of their opening eight games this season, including victories against Chelsea and Birmingham on their way to this final.
One of Everton’s aims at the start of the 2019-20 campaign was to reach the FA Cup final. Now they have done so, Kirk wants his side to claim a trophy to have something to show for their recent good form.
“We were very strong on that [wanting to reach the final] and continued that theme throughout the season and we obviously got there,” said the Scotsman.
“I think the players felt when the competition got resurrected that it was a little bit written in the stars and the belief just grew and grew.
“The challenge for me now is to make sure we’re not happy with just being at Wembley.
“We’ve reached our objective and now we want to go one better. I don’t think there’s any point going to Wembley unless you’re going to win it.”
The Women’s FA Cup final kicks off at 2.30 pm on Sunday, and will be live on free-to-air TV with the BBC’s coverage starting at 2:05pm. It will also be broadcast via the FA Player app (free) and BT Sport (subscription).
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