After seeing off holders Shaktar Donetsk, and the mighty Juventus, Fulham recorded a 2-1 victory against German champions Wolfsburg in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final at Craven Cottage last night. Damien Duff and the in-form Bobby Zamora got the goals for the Cottagers.
Whether it was a Juventus hangover or not, the home team started slowly and so did Wolfsburg- there was no life to the match in the opening periods. The only notable effort came from the English team when a Zoltan Gera shot was fumbled by goalkeeper Diego Benaglio- who quickly gathered the ball back in his grasp. Too many wayward passes, surprisingly from the likes of assured passers such as Danny Murphy, added to the frustration for the home side. Wolfsburg’s only first half chance came when striker Grafite blasted over from a pass that had cut open Fulham’s defence.
However, after finding themselves 2-0 up, Roy Hodgson must be cursing his side’s luck as Wolfsburg’s goal came in the 89th minute and that will give the German team a real lift going back to their own stadium where battle will re-commence next Thursday. Nonetheless, Fulham can consider a job well done as they still have a real chance of progressing to the semi-finals, and Wolfsburg came in to the match having lost only one of their last 10 games.
However, as is often the case, the second-half was to be a different game and it was Wolfsburg, much like Barcelona did against Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday night, who almost scored seconds in to the re-start. Aaron Hughes let a through ball bounce before Edin Dzeko, from the cross that had occurred by the through ball, should have scored after Brede Hangeland somehow jumped under the ball to leave Dzeko free on goal. It resulted in a tame headed effort- and perhaps this was the catalyst for Fulham to really come in to the game.
Craven Cottage was heaving before kick-off and, after a dull first-half, the home faithful were waiting for something to shout about. The main-man Zamora was to get the place rocking again on 59 minutes as he collected a pass from Gera, got himself in to a shooting position and curled a brilliant shot past Benaglio. Zamora’s 18th goal of the season was another beauty as some of his goals have been, and it is no wonder that the Craven Cottage faithful would love to see him given a World Cup chance with England. “Bobby for England” they sung.
Just as everyone was settling down to anticipate what the rest of the match had in store, Fulham once again came up with the answer and took a 2-0 lead just four minutes after Zamora’s opener. The scorer turned provider as he demonstrated one of his main assets by holding the ball up in the box from a Murphy pass, and with his back to goal, he set up Duff who slotted past Benaglio from 12 yards out. The vision from Zamora was impressive, as to was the lay-off for the Irishman, and the finish was of the cool type that was needed to put Fulham in the box seat.
The game was to have one more twist in it and it seemed to come from the Cottagers own mistakes. Where they should have been trying to see the game out, they instead gifted possession to Wolfsburg- and in dangerous areas. At first they threatened to score more than once as ex-Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins and Grafite both squandered opportunities. Murphy played a horrible pass that let Grafite in but he shot wide.
The pressure from the away team was to prove too much in the dying minutes. A quickly taken corner, by Zvjezdan Misimovic, was returned to him before he crossed in to the box where the ball found Alexander Madlung who headed home. A bitter pill for Fulham to swallow as it came so late in the match.
Wolfsburg may be buoyant heading back to the Volkswagen Arena but with the way Fulham are progressing in Europe this season, they too will be very confident that they can get a positive result in Germany.
Afterwards, Hodgson seemed intent on focusing on the positives and seemed happy with the result. He said: “I thought we played very well and were close, at the end of the game, to a famous 2-0 victory.” His thoughts for the second-leg represented someone who has the belief in his players. He added: “I don’t know if we are favourites; we relinquished the chance to be favourites at 2-1. We go there with the lead and we need a draw or a victory. And we did enough to show we can cause them plenty of problems when we attack.”
Click below to see action from the game, where once again Bobby Zamora found the back of the net.
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