Roy Hodgson managed to defy all odds and take his underdog team all the way to the final against now European heavyweights Atletico Madrid. Their route to the final was remarkable and those results are worth looking back at.
Fulham first qualified for the Europa League after finishing the 08/09 season in an impressive 7th place, above both Tottenham and Manchester City, albeit before the Manchester club’s large cash injection in the proceeding summer transfer window. Their 7th placed finish means they were entered into the third qualifying round for the Europa League. They played Lithuanian team FK Vėtra and won both the home and away legs 3-0, progressing to the play-off round with a comfortable 6-0 aggregate win. The play-off round was a much closer affair with Fulham winning the tie with a 3-2 aggregate victory, all the goals were scored at home and came from Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora.
Fulham were then placed in the group stages of the Europa League and were the only English representatives alongside Everton, with Aston Villa falling at the previous hurdle. They were placed in Group E with Italian side Roma, Swiss side Basel, and Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia. Fulham’s finest moment in the group stage was arguably their 1-1 home draw with Roma, a match which they very almost won after Brede Hangeland put them ahead on 27 minutes, only to concede an extremely late goal in the 93rd minute. Fulham managed to amass an impressive 11 points out of a possible 18. They eventually finished the group stage of the competition in second place, with Roma finishing in first with only two points more.
Next up was the knockout round of 32. Fulham were drawn against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, beating them 2-1 in the home leg and drawing 1-1 in the away leg. They then progressed to the last 16 and faced an extremely difficult opponent in Juventus, who had entered the competition in the knockout rounds after finishing third in their Champions League group. No one could see Fulham overcoming these giants of Italian football. Fulham had other ideas however, as they contested a tie which was arguably Fulham’s most thrilling game of the competition.
The first leg of this daunting tie was held in the Stadio Olimpico di Torino, Turin. Fulham did not get off to the best of starts, conceding after just 9 minutes. The situation worsened not long afterwards as Juventus doubled their lead on 25 minutes. Now 2-0 down, Fulham had to find some fight from somewhere and they managed to pull a goal back through Dickson Etuhu, with his deflected effort wrong footing the goalkeeper and finding the back of the net. Unfortunately for Fulham, David Trezeguet managed to restore Juventus’ 2 goal lead at the end of the half. Fulham went on to defend well throughout the second half and the match finished 3-1.
Fulham now faced a mammoth task at Craven Cottage, knowing they’d need to win by at least 2 goals without reply, or 3 goals if Juventus managed to score, due to the away goals rule. On the day of the second leg, not even the most die-hard Fulham fan could have predicted what was about to happen. Fulham got off to the worst possible start and conceded just 2 minutes into the game, Trezeguet again finding the net. Many fans were fearing the worst at this point and the team needed to make sure that they responded well, and respond well they did. Just 7 minutes later Bobby Zamora scored for the home side, sending the crowd wild with excitement. Towards the end of the first half, Fulham did the unthinkable and took the lead after a brilliantly worked team goal was finished off by Zoltan Gera at the near post. The first half ended 2-1 to Fulham and people were starting to believe that they could pull it off. This belief increased just minutes into the second half as Juventus conceded a penalty for handball. Zoltan Gera dispatched the penalty with ease, sending the keeper the wrong way. The tie was now level on aggregate and with Fulham playing by far the better football, Craven Cottage was rocking with support and encouragement for their team. The moment of the match came late when in the 82nd minute, Clint Dempsey tried an audacious chip from the outside right of the penalty box and the goalkeeper could do nothing but watch it sail into the top far corner of his goal. The stadium erupted and Fulham now had the aggregate lead they needed to progress through to the quarter-finals. Fulham managed to hang on and the game finished 4-1, 5-4 on aggregate. They had achieved the impossible.
Fulham next faced Wolfsburg and after their amazing win against Juventus, their confidence was high. They made relatively light work of the German side as they came out 3-1 aggregate winners. They made it through to the semi-finals and faced another strong German side in Hamburg. The first leg finished 0-0 in Hamburg which set up a nervy return match in London. Hamburg took a 1-0 lead in the match before Fulham turned the tie around by scoring 2 second half goals to book their place in the final against Atletico Madrid.
For just one night the entire nation became Fulham fans. The final took place in Hamburg with approximately 50,000 people in attendance. Everyone was rooting for the underdog team who had come so far in the competition. The Madrid side they were facing was a very strong one. Their starting XI included Diego Forlan, who went on to win the Golden Boot at the World Cup later that year, as well as some now famous stars such as David De Gea and Segio Aguero. Forlan gave Madrid the lead on 32 minutes and Fulham fans knew again that their team was going to have to find the courage to respond. Simon Davies provided the equalising goal for the Cottagers after Madrid struggled to clear their lines. After a relatively quiet second half, the match went to extra time. The nation still believed Fulham might be able to produce a European underdog victory to rival Liverpool’s famous 2005 Champions League triumph. Unfortunately, in a devastating turn of events, Forlan again managed to scored with just four minutes of extra time remaining. Fulham were unable to produce a response this time around and the match finished 2-1.
It was the underdog story that nearly was. It might be a bittersweet memory for some Fulham fans but we mustn’t forget what a joy they were to watch throughout the competition as they defied all expectations and produced one of the most memorable European campaigns from an English team.
BY - Owen Holland
12 May 2015