Shrewsbury taking on the best club in the world

Shrewsbury taking on the best club in the world

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Shrewsbury taking on the best club in the world

By Peter Auf der Heyde

Four days before Christmas Shrewsbury Town travelled to Blackpool for their League One match. 7,659 spectators were in the Bloomfield Road Stadium to see Fejiri Okenabirhie score a penalty that gave the visitors a 1-0 win.

On the same day, some 7,000 kilometres away in the Qatari capital of Doha, a capacity crowd of over 45,000 in the Khalifa International Stadium watched Liverpool beat Brazilian club Flamengo 1-0 to become the world club champions.

On Sunday Okenabirhie and his team-mates will have an opportunity to take on the best in the world as The Shrews face The Reds in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

The difference between the two clubs could hardly be more striking as Liverpool have a 16 point lead at the top of the Premier League after beating Manchester United 2-0 on Sunday, while Shrewsbury are 16th in the third tier of English football after their 2-2 draw at Fleetwood on Saturday.

The credible football website puts the value of the entire Shrewsbury squad at 5.58 million pounds. Liverpool in contrast, have just three players in their squad (all of them reserve goalkeepers) who are valued at less and the estimated value of the 24 players in their squad is given as 1.07 billion pounds.

For Sam Hart playing against Liverpool would be a dream come true. The defender, who only joined Shrewsbury on loan from Blackburn Rovers at the end of last week, was formally on the books of Liverpool and was handed a debut (which was to remain his only game) by Jürgen Klopp in a friendly against Mainz in August 2016.

“It’s crazy. The first thing the gaffer (coach) told me at Blackburn was they’re playing Liverpool next week and it’ll be nice to see a couple of old friends. I’ll be ready for it and hopefully, get the shirt to play.

“It would be amazing. I grew up playing there so to put the shirt on again would be amazing for me and my family. I was there for four years. I loved my time and learned a lot from the staff, I’ve got a lot of friends and moved on to Blackburn two years ago.”

Shrewsbury are not the only team involved in a David vs Goliath clash, as 15 or 16 (one replay between Tranmere Rovers and Watford is still to be played) non-Premier League clubs have made it through to the round of the last 32.

The FA Cup is the oldest football cup competition in the world and has – over the years – provided plenty of shock results and several Premier League clubs have already been knocked out by lower-league opposition this time around.

Titleholders Manchester City, who presumably have all but given up on retaining the Premier League, will look towards cup competitions to save their season.

They welcome promotion-chasing Championship side Fulham at the City of Manchester Stadium, while their city rivals United are away to the winner of the replay between Tranmere Rovers and Watford.

Arsenal, who have won the competition a record 13 times, bring the fourth round to a close on Monday with their match at fellow Premier League club Bournemouth.

Football fans throughout Africa will be able to watch the FA Cup fourth round matches live and exclusively on the Football Channels of StarTimes after the continent’s leading digital-TV operator secured the rights to the prestigious competition.

Peter Auf der Heyde

Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.

Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top-flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.