Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici is ready to return to the ground that kick-started his career - and the Australian stopper cannot wait to test himself against Manchester United's strike-force.
FA Cup: Federici looks to shine again on return to Old Trafford with Reading
DUBAI // It is almost six years to the day that Adam Federici, making only his third start in goal for Reading's first team, was named Man of the Match in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round.
On February 17, 2007, the Australian stopper's performance at Old Trafford proved so impressive he was named Player of the Round by the FA and his club rewarded him with a two-year extension to the 12-month deal he had signed the previous summer.
Federici will again stand between the sticks at the Theatre of Dreams as Reading once more travel to United in the FA Cup fifth round. Instead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Henrik Larsson, however, United now boast Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Only a masochist could look forward to facing such a strike-force and yet Federici, 28, beams at the thought.
"To go and play in front of the crowd at Old Trafford in one of my first games was incredible," he told The National during Reading's warm-weather training camp in Dubai last week.
"I had a good game, so nothing but positive memories and I am looking forward to going back there. I've been a few times since, but never played, so I am looking forward to playing in the stadium again.
"Van Persie is obviously incredible and so is Rooney, but then they have four or five guys on the bench who can come on and score, as well. That's just the beauty of a big club. You can dwell on things like that or you can take it as a challenge and that's what we do at Reading. There is no pressure on us, so we can go out there, enjoy it and test ourselves against the best in the world."
United, the Premier League leaders, have won the FA Cup a record 11 times and are undoubtedly favourites to oust their relegation-threatened opponents. Yet as has been starkly showcased throughout the tournament's 132-year history - none more recently than Saturday when the second-tier side Blackburn Rovers defeated the 10-time winners Arsenal - form and history count for little in the oldest football competition in the world.
"It's a big game for us, but the pressures of the league go away for an evening," Federici said. "I love the FA Cup; it gave me my start in football. I have a lot of respect for it and in the FA Cup anything can happen. Take Bradford in the League Cup as an example: a couple of good games in a row and all of a sudden they are in the final at Wembley. You just never know what might happen."
Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, knows how difficult United can be to beat. When the teams met at the Madejski Stadium in the league last December, McDermott's side took the lead three times before losing 4-3.
"That's how it is," McDermott said. "We were in the lead, then Rooney did something and then Van Persie did something and then … that's just how it is. You go to Old Trafford with a plan in place, but your players have to be at their best and you have to get decisions to go your way then see what happens."
Federici is hoping United's exploits in the Champions League last week might result in a bit of mental or physical fatigue that can help the Royals reach the FA Cup quarter-finals for the second time in three years. He accepts, however, his opponents' 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu is unlikely to hinder Sir Alex Ferguson's team and says he will instead channel the spirit of the underdog.
"Hopefully, it's a possibility, but with the squad they have and the players they have coming off the bench, even if they want to swap a few players around, they are not losing much quality," Federici said.
"It will be a very tough game for us, but it's one we look forward to and I can't wait to play in it. They are obviously expected to win; a lot of people have written us off already, but - especially being Australian - I love being the underdog and proving those people wrong. That's what we'll be aiming to do."
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