Fulham 2 – 1 Hamburg (agg 2 – 1)
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Craven Cottage
Fulham made history at an ecstatic Craven Cottage as they came from behind to beat Hamburg and reach the Europa League final, where they will face Atletico Madrid.
Roy Hodgson’s dream of leading Fulham to their first European final after an epic campaign looked in jeopardy as Mladen Petric’s spectacular first-half free-kick put Hamburg on course for victory.
Hamburg, fuelled by the knowledge that the final would be played in their own Nordbank Arena, were in control for an hour – but as they have done before in their European adventure, Fulham responded magnificently to eventually overpower the Germans.
Fulham survived the loss of top scorer Bobby Zamora, clearly still suffering from an Achilles injury, early in the second half to overcome the odds again.
Simon Davies’ instinctive turn and finish after 69 minutes gave the Cottagers the first of the two goals they needed, and Zoltan Gera pounced from close range seven minutes later to cap another memorable night on the banks of the Thames.
And as Fulham’s players took a lap of honour at the final whistle Hodgson, the man who has orchestrated the resurrection of this famous old club from the brink of relegation to the Championship into a European final, strolled calmly towards the dressing room with his hands in his pockets, stopping only to console Hamburg’s beaten players.
The calm and composed manner in which Fulham went about their work was in the image of their manager, who is the perfect advert for sound footballing common sense. And the man who appointed him, Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed, also took his share of the glory as he strode off waving his scarf.
Fulham never lost hope in the face of Hamburg’s early superiority, maintaining the self-belief that has seen them dispose of the likes of Juventus and Wolfsburg on the way to the showpiece in Hamburg on 12 May.
The scale of the achievement is a tribute to the work of Hodgson and his players – and given the compelling performances they have produced in the Europa League, they will travel to the final with genuine ambitions of lifting the trophy.
Fulham were able to call on striker Zamora after he had an injection in the Achilles injury that threatened to sideline him – and he almost provided a packed Craven Cottage with the start the fans desired after only two minutes.
He exchanged passes with Gera and looked to have a clear opening, but Hamburg keeper Frank Rost was swiftly out at Zamora’s feet and scrambled the ball away for a corner.
Fulham were struggling to settle with an expectant crowd roaring them on and it was the visitors, with Ricardo Moniz in charge until the end of the season after coach Bruno Labbadia was sacked after their 5-1 weekend defeat at Hoffenheim, who took control.
And the dominance they exerted was rewarded when Petric produced a moment of brilliance to give them a crucial away goal after 22 minutes. Fulham captain Danny Murphy was penalised for fouling Ze Roberto, and keeper Mark Schwarzer was static as Petric’s free-kick flashed high past him from 25 yards.
The goal understandably dented Fulham’s confidence, and it was Hamburg who came closest to adding a second before the interval when Jonathan Petroipa sent a low, angled drive narrowly wide at Schwarzer’s near post.
Zamora had struggled manfully, despite obviously being less than fully fit, and it was no surprise when he was replaced by Clint Dempsey just before the hour. The talisman of Fulham’s Europa League run was given a deserved standing ovation as he limped away.
Mladen Petric’s explosive free-kick had Hamburg ahead at the break
The London side were starting to get desperate in their search for a breakthrough, but it almost came after 62 minutes when Damien Duff turned Paul Konchesky’s free-kick agonisingly wide with Rost scrambling across his goal.
Davies handed Fulham the lifeline they needed with 21 minutes left, taking Murphy’s pass and turning past Guy Demel inside the area before beating Rost to send Craven Cottage into delirium.
And another magnificent Fulham fightback was in sight as Hamburg, suddenly unsettled after a night of relative calm, faltered in the face of Hodgson’s revived side. Davies’ corner bounced off Demel and Gera was first to react and slam home from close range.
Hamburg, stunned by Fulham’s recovery, never looked like forcing their way back into the game – and Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir’s final whistle signalled the start of celebrations that would surely carry on long into the night.
However, with Fulham’s place already secure, any hopes of an all-English final were dashed as Atletico overcame Liverpool on away goals after extra time.