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Charlton Athletic, last season's beaten Finalists, have been drawn away to Birmingham City in the semi finals of the FA Women's Cup, in partnership with Nationwide. Charlton are the current leaders of the FA Nationwide Premier League National Division and knocked out holders Fulham in the Fifth Round, before seeing off the tough challenge of Doncaster Rovers Belles at the weekend. The semi-final ties are scheduled for Sunday March 14th.
Keith Boanas, Charlton manager, said: "We have had some tough games against Birmingham City in the past, so this will be another tough tie for us. We beat them 3-1 away in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup last season, so we'll be hoping for another victory to make it through to the Final. The team enjoyed the Cup run last year but we want to make up for the heartache of losing the Final and go all the way this time. If we can keep up our current form, then we think we can do it."
Birmingham City manager, the Rushden and Diamonds defender Marcus Bignot, added: "We fared well against Charlton in the league in two close games this season and we will be ready for this game. I really think being at home has got to be a big factor for us and we needed that advantage if we were going to be drawn against Charlton or Arsenal. We played Doncaster Belles away in a League Cup semi-final two years ago and won, so we know about the pressure of big cup games. I will expect every player, coach, parent and fan to be at this game, and if we can get some extra support from Birmingham City fans then that would be fantastic. We are just 90 minutes away from the biggest game of the season."
In the second tie, Arsenal have been drawn away against Bristol Rovers. The two sides last met in the FA Women's Cup in 2001 when they clashed in the semi-finals. Arsenal won 3-0 that day and went onto win the Final, beating Fulham 1-0. The Gunners go into the semi finals off the back of two convincing wins against lower league opposition - beating Middlesbrough 6-1 away in the Fifth Round and Cardiff City 11-1 in the quarter-finals.
"This is a tough draw because Rovers get a lot of support," explained Faye White, the Arsenal captain. "It's the same tie as three years ago and we had a battle that day to win the game, although we did go on to win the Cup so I hope this is a good omen. They will be as determined as we are to win this game and get to the Final. It was obviously good to steer clear of Charlton, but we will not underestimate the strength of Rovers who will be buoyed on by their fantastic support."
Bristol Rovers are looking forward to the challenge and after attracting big crowds to their previous showings in the semi-finals, they'll be hoping for some good home support.
Manager Ivor Gumm said: "When you get to the semi-finals, it doesn't matter who you get drawn against because you are going to be playing against the best teams. We've got to beat Arsenal at some stage, so we might as well have them in the semis before going on to meet Charlton or Birmingham! Vic Akers has got a great side and they play lovely football - they are the one side that every club tries to model themselves on.
I don't think I will have any problem motivating my side to be at their best for this game and this is the best possible match to attract a big crowd. I'm looking forward to it."
The venues for the semi-finals are to be confirmed.
The semi-final draw was made at the FA's headquarters at Soho Square on Monday lunchtime by FA Women's Football Committee Chairman Ray Kiddell and Committee member Ray Berridge. On offer for the winners of the semi-finals is a 2,500 prize fund, four times the prize money offered last season. The winners also face a bumper payout in the Final, with the runners-up getting an extra 1,000 bonus and the winners taking home a 5,000 prize.
This season's Final will again be broadcast live on BBC1, on Bank Holiday Monday May 3rd 2004 with a 1.00pm kick-off. The venue will be announced later this week.
The FA Women's Cup is presented in partnership with Nationwide, The FA's partners for women's football. Nationwide joined forces with The FA in August 2002 and their contract, covering all FA women's competitions, lasts until summer 2006.
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