Fulham completed their fairytale run to the Europa League final as the unfashionable English club defeated Hamburg SV 2-1 in their semi-final second leg on Thursday.
Roy Hodgson’s side looked on the verge of elimination when they trailed to Mladen Petric’s first-half free-kick with just 21 minutes left at Craven Cottage. Two goals in seven minutes from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera, however, sealed a dramatic 2-1 aggregate triumph and a place in the final against Atletico Madrid at Hamburg’s own Nordbank Arena on May 12.
“It’s the most important goal I have ever scored, so I’m very, very happy. It’s amazing,” Gera said.
Davies paid tribute to Hodgson.
“The manager said at halftime keep playing your football and you’ll get your rewards and we did tonight, so we’re buzzing,” the Welshman said.
Hodgson’s team had already exceeded all expectations in a magical run that included victories over holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus and German champions VfL Wolfsburg. The Cottagers had even survived the draining effects of their enforced 18-hour bus journey to Germany in the first leg in Hamburg last week.
With so much at stake, Fulham’s 19-goal leading scorer Bobby Zamora agreed to have a painkilling injection so he could start after missing Sunday’s defeat at Everton with an Achilles injury. Zamora had a chance to impress watching England coach Fabio Capello, but the former Tottenham Hotspur forward never looked fit and was unable to convert a golden opportunity in the second minute.
Gera’s flick sent Zamora through on goal yet, with just Frank Rost to beat, he shot straight at the Hamburg goalkeeper, before his effort from the rebound was scrambled away for a corner.
It proved a costly miss as Ricardo Moniz’s side gradually took control before going ahead in the 22nd minute. After Ze Roberto was fouled by Danny Murphy 35m from goal, Petric stepped up and unleashed a ferocious free-kick that caught goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer slightly flat-footed as it sped past him.
Hodgson’s side had recovered from a worse position to go through against Juventus, but the Germans were pushing for a killer second goal and Jonathan Pitropia was narrowly off-target with a powerful drive just before halftime.
Zamora began limping heavily as the match wore on and it was no surprise when he was replaced by Clint Dempsey in the 57th minute. Dempsey added more verve to the previously subdued Fulham forward line and Damien Duff went close with a first-time shot from Paul Konchesky’s low free-kick.
Davies brought the hosts right back into the tie in the 69th minute. Murphy chipped a defense-splitting pass to Davies and the Welsh midfielder showed great skill to turn Guy Demel before firing past Rost.
Suddenly, Fulham could sense another remarkable European victory and they piled forward. Their pressure was rewarded in the 76th minute when Davies’ corner ran through to Hungarian Gera, who kept his composure to shoot past Rost as the crowd went wild.