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Soccer logic defied on weekend to savor in FA Cup, providing financial lift for small teams

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LONDON — Forget for a moment how illogical it was that $300 million worth of soccer talent lost to a team which cost $12,000 to assemble.

Forget how embarrassing it was for Jose Mourinho to see his Premier League-leading Chelsea side beaten by Bradford of the third tier.

Savor instead the FA Cup and the enduring ability of the world's oldest knockout competition to throw up "giant killings" that particularly befuddle the modern tribe of football fans whose predictions and judgments are based on heat maps and player data.

Clips from Chelsea's 4-2 fourth-round capitulation at home to Bradford on Saturday will be replayed for decades, resonating far longer than even the occasional Champions League group-stage upset.

But for Bradford, the comeback from two goals down is about much more than removing some of the sheen from a Chelsea team being tipped at one stage to go through the Premier League season unbeaten.

An afternoon as the jubilant underdog will make a big difference to the finances of a club, which also stunned English football by reaching the League Cup final in 2013.

"We have an overspend this year of more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million)," Bradford co-chairman Mark Lawn told The Associated Press on Monday. "We will break even now and don't need to sell players."

Between the third and sixth rounds, each team receives 45 percent of the gate receipts from matches, with the rest going to the Football Association. Lawn anticipates the cup generating an extra 700,000 pounds ($1 million) for his northern English club, highlighting just how important the competition is financially for professional teams outside the Premier League.

"Cup runs keep the 72 clubs in Football League going," Lawn said by telephone. "They can be the difference from financial ruin and financial stability."

The tone for a frenzied weekend of cup upsets was set on Friday with Cambridge, a fourth-tier team of cast-away academy graduates and freebies, holding a Manchester United matchday squad worth more than $300 million to a 0-0 draw. Cambridge is anticipating a windfall of more than 1.5 million pounds ($2.3 million) from a replay at Old Trafford next week.

"Hopefully we can get the stadium done and start putting in some proper toilets," said Cambridge chairman Dave Doggett.

PHOTO: Bradford’s Filipe Morais celebrates after scoring a goal during the English FA Cup 4th round soccer match between Bradford City and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, London, England, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Bradford’s Filipe Morais celebrates after scoring a goal during the English FA Cup 4th round soccer match between Bradford City and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, London, England, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

For United it was the second humbling experience of the season under Louis van Gaal, with third-tier MK Dons ousting them from the League Cup in August. And in the FA Cup's third round earlier this month, United needed more than an hour to score against Yeovil before edging the third-tier team 2-0.

At Yeovil, a seemingly perplexed Van Gaal said: "When you can organize your team (defensively) like the manager of Yeovil Town and they believe in it, you cannot do a lot."

Not even when you are a veteran coach who only last year was being called a genius for leading the Netherlands to third place at the World Cup.

Unlike Chelsea and Premier League champion Manchester City, which was stunned by second-tier Middlesbrough on Saturday, United was at near full-strength against Cambridge. The expensive strike force, led by Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria, couldn't find the net once.

What Cambridge, and indeed Bradford, showed is that a team's stature and squad value can count for little when taking on a more determined, well-organized lower-league team.

Perhaps Mourinho now regrets destabilizing the team by making nine changes, giving top-scorer Diego Costa a day off and leaving defensive fulcrum John Terry on the bench.

Bradford didn't just steal the victory with scrappy goals. The team looked tenacious and unsettled its more illustrious hosts.

"It shouldn't make sense," said Lawn, who first invested in Bradford in 2007. "We are lucky in this country we have the FA Cup. We are lucky a team 50 places below the people at the top of the tree can still go there to Chelsea and win."

What might perplex the outsider is why Bradford is only seventh in the third division and not competing against powers like Chelsea every week.

"You could see it in their legs they were tired," Lawn reflected on Saturday's game at Stamford Bridge. "You can't play every single game at the same pelt ... and you need to have a bit of luck on your side."


Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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