By Laurie Fitzgerald

With eight teams still dreaming of cup glory this season, the 2011/12 FA Cup has reached the business end of the tournament.

There are some cracking ties in store as the quarter-finalists battle for a place at Wembley next month, and just one team outside the Premier League left in the competition.

That is Leicester City, who have been rewarded with victory over top-flight opposition in Norwich City in the last round with a trip to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.

Tottenham take on Bolton at White Hart Lane, while Liverpool try and reach a second semi-final of the season as the Carling Cup winners face Stoke at Anfield.

But the main focus of this preview is on the match in the other part of Merseyside, as Everton prepare to battle it out with Sunderland in the last four.    

Both sides have overcome difficult starts that saw them flirt with the relegation zone to being firmly in contention for a top-eight finish going into the run-in.

David Moyes‘ side have started to find goals on a more frequent basis thanks to the return of creative midfielder Steven Pienaar and the arrival of Croatian forward Nikica Jelavic.

As for Sunderland, Martin O’Neill has galvanised a beleagured squad that struggled under former manager Steve Bruce to propel the Black Cats up the table.

Finding the back of the net was also an issue for the Wearsiders, but the likes of Niklas Bendtner, Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean have provided much-needed ammunition to a revitalised outfit.

McClean has been a real discovery at the Stadium of Light; brought in by Bruce from Derry City in the summer, the 22 year-old’s form has put him firmly in contention for a place in the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012.

For Sunderland it is a chance to get one step closer to repeating the heroics of Bob Stokoe‘s 1973 cup-winning side, while Everton are trying to reach their first final since narrowly losing to Chelsea back in 2009.

While many eyes will be on McClean to provide a spark for the away side, the Toffees will look to Dutchman Royston Drenthe to provide the attacking platform in the absence of the cup-tied Pienaar.

It is also an opportunity to provide Jack Rodwell with some game time as he continues to return from a hamstring injury and try to launch a late push for the England squad in the summer.

Prediction: It’s sure to be a tight affair between two well-matched sides that have got better as the season has progressed; I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

So what do you think? Will Everton progress to the semi-finals? Or will Sunderland continue their revival under Martin O’Neill to reach the last four? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

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