European football occasionally throws up the odd freak result, but sometimes you witness a display of football brilliance so sharp it takes your breath away. Tonight, Fulham dazzled and displayed such panache against the tottering giants of Italian football, Juventus, that you had to check that things had really happened.
For a side who are enjoying only their second season of European football, tonight will be remembered as one of the sides greatest achievements. 3-1 down from a first leg that threatened to run away from them and incredibly 4-1 down when Trezeguet shot the Old Lady ahead after just two minutes, Fulham rose to the challenge and surpassed all expectations.
There is no doubt that Roy Hodgson is certainly writing a rather large chapter in Fulham’s history books and his continued success is testament to his ability, so often overlooked in England. After this latest success, there is no hiding from the fact that he has transformed Fulham from also rans to a dynamic football side. In just under two and half years, Hodgson has turned the Cottagers from relegation fodder to a fast improving side challenging for regular Europa League football.
Tonight, the watching Fabio Capello couldn’t have helped to be impressed by Bobby Zamora. He made Cannavaro look like he’d never played the game before tonight, despite his age. It was only a matter of time before Cannavaro, constantly struggling to cope with Zamora’s strength and power, would see red and when it happened, Juventus capitulated.
The cries for Zamora’s inclusion in the England squad will surely grow louder after this display. He’s clearly enjoying his best ever season in top flight football .With Crouch and Heskey struggling for form and goals and Carlton Cole finding fitness hard to come by, he could be a late inclusion for South Africa.
Three months ago, such a proclamation would be greeted with jeers, now it seems like common sense. His only problem would seem to be the lack of international football before now and the announcement of the squad. The newly announced friendly on May 26th would seem to be his only chance, but Capello likes players in form and Zamora is bang in the middle of a never ending purple patch.
The icing on the cake for Fulham tonight was supplied by Clint Dempsey with a wonderful goal to take them 5-4 ahead on aggregate. A sublime chip of real quality, it was a breath taking strike that deserved to win a World Cup final, never mind a last sixteen match in the Europa League. Another red card followed for the shell-shocked I Bianconeri as Duff was spitefully kicked by Zebina. Fulham fans couldn’t believe what they were witnessing, it was a footballing masterclass.
The re-emergence of Damien Duff too, who struggled for so long as Newcastle United slowly died a lingering death shouldn’t be overlooked. Having seemingly lost his way after leaving Chelsea, Duff has rediscovered the form that caused Chelsea to pay £18 million for the left winger back in 2004. It shouldn’t be understated that Hodgson was Duff’s first manager, the relationship now coming full circle. It seems to be a situation that has paid dividends for both of them.
Nights like tonight don’t come around too much for fans who support any other club outside England’s big four and there will be plenty of sore heads tomorrow morning in West London. For a club renowned for its friendliness, it’s a marvelous result that will be etched on every single fans collective consciousness forever. A fabulous advert for football and a complete anti-thesis to the performance seen at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday from the neighbours and rivals.
I truly wish the draw for the Quarter-Finals is kind to them, but after dispatching Juventus and defending champions, Shaktar Donetsk prior to that, I think teams will be wanting to avoid Fulham rather than the other way round. Congratulations to Fulham and I hope their fans soak in every minute of tonight, where can this European adventure take them? It was probably the best game I’ve seen all season and one of the best performances by an English club in Europe I’ve ever seen.