Hodgson praises Fulham’s ‘tremendous character’

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Rafael Benitez "It was a great performance because it would have been so easy for us to lose our heads," says Fulham boss

Rafael Benitez

English football experienced mixed fortunes last night as Fulham sealed their place in the Europa League final while Liverpool crashed out of the competition.

Fulham came from behind to defeat Hamburg 2-1 while the same scoreline at Anfield was insufficient as Rafael Benítez saw his team defeated on away goals.

It was an historic night at Craven Cottage and Roy Hodgson paid homage to the efforts of his players who showed tremendous character to battle to victory through adversity.

“It was a great performance because it would have been so easy for us to lose our heads after the great goal they scored. I thought we were good value for our victory and the character of this team has been proved time and time again,” Hodgson said.

A sensational free kick from Mladen Petric had edged the Germans ahead in the first half but the Cottagers patiently probed until Simon Davies unlocked the stubborn Hamburg defence with a deft touch and neat turn followed by a superb finish.

Optimism soon transformed into delirium as Zoltán Gera pounced on a loose ball in the penalty box and secured their place in the final. The comeback was breathtaking, the atmosphere electric.

A joyful Hodgson remarked, “We’re in the final because we’ve played very, very well throughout and knocked out some very difficult teams, not least Hamburg. It’s been a wonderful journey that I’m really proud of.”

It is a run which has seen the Premier League club defeat the reigning UEFA Cup champions Shaktar Donetsk, the Italian giants Juventus and defending German champions Wolfsburg. Atletico Madrid are now the only obstacle remaining between them and the Europa League crown.

Under the stewardship of Quique Flores, the visiting Spanish side ended Liverpool’s hopes of rescuing any resemblance of dignity from this season. Their old nemesis Diego Forlan snatched a dramatic away goal deep into extra time.

Alberto Aquilani had earlier scored his first European goal for the Reds in normal time to level the tie on aggregate. When Yossi Benayoun’s elegant strike nudged Liverpool ahead 2-1 overall it seemed inevitable Benítez’s side would grind out victory and be present in Hamburg on May 12.

But Forlan steered home Jose Antonio Reyes’ low cross to crush Liverpool’s spirits and end all hope of a trophy this season.  Flores was in buoyant mood after the match and spoke of the pride that comes with Atletico being Spain’s sole representative in a European final this season.

“It was an amazing night,” he said.

“You can’t come to Anfield without knowing you are going to suffer some difficult moments but we were the stronger side in extra-time and deserved to go through.”

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