Wembley date for odd couple Bradford and Swansea
Swansea City and fourth-tier giant-killers Bradford City are both chasing history in one of the most unlikely English League Cup final contests in the tournament's 52-year history.
In years gone by, a match between the two provincial clubs would have raised barely a flicker of interest beyond the boundaries of the cities they represent.
But at a sold-out Wembley Stadium on Sunday, they will be centre of attention, with the added incentive of a Europa League berth awaiting the victors.
Bradford's progress in the competition has been truly remarkable.
The League Two outfit entered the tournament as 10,000-1 outsiders but stunning victories over Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and then Aston Villa saw them become the first team from England's fourth tier to reach a major Wembley final.
It is an achievement rendered all the more impressive by the fact they came close to extinction in the wake of the financial crises that followed their relegation from the Premier League in 2001.
Swansea, however, know a thing or two about dicing with disaster themselves.
The south Wales club may now be a tried and tested Premier League team, feted for the quality of their play, but 10 years ago they came close to going out of business altogether.
Only a 4-2 win over Hull City on the final day of the 2002-03 season prevented them from slipping out of the English Football League and potentially going under.
Midfielder Leon Britton is one of only three survivors from that game against Hull in the current Swansea squad, alongside Alan Tate and club captain Garry Monk, and he admits he still has trouble believing what has happened.
"If someone had said to you then that we would be in the Premier League and a major cup final, you would have thought they had landed from the moon," he said.
"Even six years ago, the LDV Vans Trophy (Football League Trophy) final against Carlisle was a massive game for us.
"Even the most optimistic Swansea fan could not have thought we would be where we are."
Over the decade that followed, successive managers Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa shaped a side renowned for the slickness of their football, before Brendan Rodgers took over and propelled the Swans into the top flight in 2011.
These days, Swansea's passing statistics stand comparison with those of Barcelona, while in manager Michael Laudrup they possess a coach who scaled the loftiest heights of the European game as a player.
"I played in a lot of finals in my career. I think it was seven or eight and it was fantastic," said the Dane, a European Cup-winner with Barcelona in 1992.
"You get used to playing home or away, but a final is 50-50 and I am pleased the players will get the chance to try something so unique."
Swansea have never before reached a major final and success would enable them to crown their centenary year in fitting fashion.
Bradford, in contrast, have already tasted glory in the FA Cup -- albeit 102 years ago, in 1911 -- and despite the huge void in league positions, winger Gerry Thompson says his side will not be overawed.
"Swansea are an excellent passing side," he said.
"But it's 11 men versus 11 men and that's how we look at it. We won't be scared of what they can do. It's all about what we do on the day."
Swansea are no giants, but striking contrasts between the two squads abound nonetheless.
Bradford striker James Hanson was playing semi-professionally and stacking supermarket shelves three years ago; Swansea's record signing, Pablo Hernandez, has played alongside Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Iker Casillas for world and European champions Spain.
Bradford are expected to take 33,000 fans to London and manager Phil Parkinson has warned his players not to let the occasion get the better of them.
"We've got to enjoy the build-up haven't we?" he said.
"It's quite unique for a team from the bottom division to get to a major cup final, so we've got to enjoy it, but we'll only truly enjoy the day if we play well. If we do that, I'll be a very proud man."
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