Fulham bounce back to reach Europa League final
London: Fulham came from behind Thursday to beat Hamburg 2-1 and set up a Europa League final date with Atletico Madrid.
After a goalless draw in the first leg, Mladen Petric`s first-half free-kick seemed to have put Hamburg in control.
But Simon Davies levelled midway through the second half, before the Hungarian forward Zoltan Gera forced in the winner with quarter of an hour to go.
“It`s the most important goal I have ever scored so I`m very, very happy. It`s amazing,” Gera told ITV4. “We did so well, every single player.”
For a modest club on the Thames, reaching a first European final, a first final of any sort since 1975, represents an extraordinary achievement, and the six minutes between the goals was probably the greatest six minutes in their 131-year history.
Most of all, though, this was a triumph for Roy Hodgson, Fulham`s experienced and affable manager.
“This team has got an unbelievable amount of spirit and character to come back from a goal down,” said goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
“They really did rock us and it took us a while to get going again.”
“(Hodgson) has been fantastic since day one when I arrived at the club, and every player can vouch for that.”
Centre-forward Bobby Zamora, who had been a doubt with an Achilles injury, was fit enough to start and, although he seemed to be moving a little gingerly, he caused Hamburg problems from the off.
Two minutes in, he collected a pass from Gera, stepped inside a defender, and was denied only by the outstretched left hand of Frank Rost.
Hamburg, though, were far from overawed, and welcomed back Petric after injury.
As in the first leg, their greatest threat came from the Burkina Faso winger Jonathan Pitroipa, whose pace troubled John Pantsil.
It was Petric, though, who opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. Danny Murphy tripped Ze Roberto, and the Croatia international smashed a dipping, swerving free-kick into the top corner.
Schwarzer was perhaps a little slow to get across to it, perhaps deceived by the ferocity of the strike.
Fulham immediately began to dominate possession, but it was Pitroipa on the break, drilling a drive just wide from 20 metres, who had the next real chance.
The home side looked neat enough in possession, but after the early Zamora chance, they created little but corners in the first half.
With Zamora battling gamely but clearly still struggling, Fulham lacked fluidity, and he was withdrawn 12 minutes into the second half for Clint Dempsey.
Gradually, as Hamburg dropped deeper, Fulham began to take control.
Damien Duff flashed a shot-cum-cross across the face of goal, before the equalizer arrived with 21 minutes to go.
Murphy chipped a ball over the top for Davies, who controlled it with the back of his heel, turned back past Guy Demel, and prodded a finish past Rost.
Seven minutes later came the second. Davies won a corner on the right, and as Murphy`s delivery bobbled around the box, Gera turned smartly to slam in the winner.
Hamburg seemed shattered by that, and their threat was fairly comfortably contained in the final minutes.
A minute into injury-time, though, a loose ball fell in the box to Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored ten goals in nine games against Fulham as a Manchester United player, but he scuffed badly wide.
“It just keeps getting better,” said captain Murphy.
“When we went a goal behind it would have been easy to think this was the end of the journey, but I thought the spirit we showed in the second half was tremendous.”
Fulham face Atletico Madrid in the final in Hamburg May 12 after an extra-time strike from Diego Forlan helped the Spanish side progress on the away goals rule after the tie finished 2-1 on the night to Liverpool but 2-2 on aggregate.