Fantastic Fulham march on after historic Juventus win
Fulham 4-1 Juventus (agg 5-4)
Casting an eye back to 2008 it would have been laughable to suggest that a Fulham side struggling to survive in the top flight would overcome one of the greatest names in world football a mere two years later.
Juventus simply crumbled in the cauldron of noise generated within Craven Cottage on Thursday as Roy Hodgson’s side secured a 4-1 triumph. Fulham were in inspired form despite a weekend hammering at the hands of Manchester United.
It is difficult to recall a tie which has generated such romanticism. The visit of the illustrious Italian outfit to the modest Fulham allowed for the imaginations of the Cottagers to run wild as they envisaged a glorious victory over the Old Lady.
But the enormity of the task that faced the London side couldn’t be underestimated. Juventus have won Europe’s top prize twice and claimed their sole UEFA Cup success in 1984 against FC Porto. Furthermore they are the second wealthiest club in Italy, ninth in the world.
The travelling party included five World Cup winners and two expensive Brazilians. In comparison to the limited resources of Fulham and the more average - but motivated - collection of players Roy Hodgson has at his disposal, it was clear that the London side would be fighting an uphill battle.
Add to that the 3-1 deficit from the first leg at the Stadio Olimpico - an underlining of the enormity of the challenge that awaited.
Matters worsened within 90 seconds of Thursday’s clash as David Trezeguet slotted a low shot past Mark Schwarzer to reinforce Juventus’ aggregate lead. It was a severe blow that threatened to drain the belief from the English team.
But this Fulham squad have emerged from previous battles with adversity and survived, and Thursday night was no different.
Hodgson will have been aware that Juventus surrendered a commanding 3-0 lead to Sienna in last week’s round of Serie A games.
Indeed the Italians held their slender advantage for less than seven minutes. Bobby Zamora neatly controlled a chipped ball, out-muscled defender Fabio Cannavaro and restored parity with a drilled shot after a sleek swivel which bamboozled the Juventus goalkeeper, Antonio Chimenti.
A Zoltan Gera brace inflicted further misery upon the Italians. The first came from a slick interchange between Zamora and Davies with the Welsh midfielder slotting the ball across goal into the path of the Hungarian midfielder. The second goal from the penalty spot after a Duff cross struck Diego’s hand.
At this point it seemed inevitable that Roy Hodgson’s players would secure victory, such was their style and commanding influence on the game. Juventus have proven a fragile entity throughout the duration of their Serie A campaign and they capitulated under the pressure.
Fabio Cannavaro received his marching orders for fouling Gera, who appeared to be racing through on goal. The World Cup winner endured a torrid thirty minutes before earning a red card. The former Real Madrid star was simply dour as he produced a handful of moments of suspect defending under the watchful gaze of former boss Fabio Capello.
Juventus went down to nine men when French defender Zebina was adjudged to have lashed out at Irish winger Duff.
With the tie finely balanced at 3-1 (agg 4-4), it was fitting that a sublime goal would send Fulham into the hat for the quarter-final draw. Substitute Clint Dempsey had been on the pitch a matter of minutes when he conjured up a magical chip on the outskirts of the penalty area.
It secured the Cottagers passage into the next round as they knocked out the mighty Juventus and claimed what must go down in the Fulham analogues as the greatest victory in their history.
“This must come close to the greatest night of the club’s history,” said manager Roy Hodgson. “On a personal note, I am not sure I can recall such a recovery. I am on top of the world.”
Clearly in a jubilant mood, the former Inter Milan boss jokingly remarked: “We should just do a Rocky Marciano and retire now because it’s not going to get any better than this.”
Damien Duff rolled back the years with a display which left fans marvelling at the undoubted talent of the left winger. He proved a constant threat with his ingenious trickery causing a multitude of problems.
Bobby Zamora impressed at the head of the Fulham attack showing great strength and deft feet. Of course Dempsey rightly deserves the plaudits for his special strike which ultimately was difference between the two teams.
“I just thought: ‘what the heck’ and tried to put it in the far post and it went in,” said Dempsey. “Nine times out of 10 you won’t make it but sometimes you’ve got to take a risk.”
When asked about the evolution of Fulham under the stewardship of Hodgson, the American remarked: “It’s life, everything changes and you have to keep working hard.”