Fulham reach Europa League final

Fulham 2 Hamburg 1 (Agg: 2-1)
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The Independent Online

Fulham's amazing European adventure continued as Roy Hodgson's men came from behind to beat Hamburg 2-1 and secure a place in the Europa League final.

The Cottagers' fairytale run started way back in July last year with a third-qualifying round tie against FK Vetra of Lithuania, and has since carried them through the group stages against Roma to superb performances which knocked out favourites Shakhtar Donetsk and then Italian giants Juventus - but could yet have its finest hour at the HSH Nordbank Arena.

Hodgson has also managed to keep Fulham on track in the Premier League, currently safe in 12th place - a remarkable achievement given the relative resources available to the west London club, so often in the shadow of their illustrious neighbours.

It was, though, no easy ride as a stunning 30-yard free-kick from Mladen Petric put the Germans in control.

However, Hodgson's side are resilient and fought back to level through a fine finish from Simon Davies, before Zoltan Gera fired in a winner with 17 minutes left to send Fulham to an unlikely, but hugely deserved first European final.

Striker Bobby Zamora - who had been given a pain-killing injection in his troublesome Achilles to be fit to start - had a half-chance during the opening minutes after a one-two with Gera.

However, Hamburg keeper Frank Rost stood up well, before Fulham's 19-goal striker scuffed the rebound wide.

Brede Hangeland headed over as the home side continued to press.

Hamburg, though, looked dangerous on the break, lead by former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, as the Germans played with more freedom than in the first leg - now under the guidance of former Tottenham skills coach Ricardo Moniz after Bruno Labbadia was sacked.

John Pantsil and then Aaron Hughes both made a timely block as the visitors looked to swing more dangerous balls into the Fulham box.

There was, though, little anyone could do to prevent Hamburg taking the lead on 22 minutes.

Danny Murphy fouled Jose Ze Roberto some 30 yards out, and Petric - whose goal at Wembley in the final match of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign ended Steve McClaren's reign as England boss - stepped up to crash a glorious left-foot curling free-kick past Mark Schwarzer and into the top corner to give the Germans a crucial away goal.

The home fans were temporarily stunned into silence - Schwarzer also looked shocked - but they soon roared their team back on to the offensive.

Dennis Agogo made a timely clearance and Zamora was coming in for special attention from Hamburg's defence, who bundled him off the ball at every turn.

The pace of Pitroipa was proving a menace with the Burkina Faso winger breaking free and driving a powerful shot narrowly wide of the left post.

Fulham were open to the counter-attack with Hamburg breaking free on several occasions.

Zamora was bundled off the ball by Jerome Boateng and Demel early in the second half and the Fulham talisman was growing frustrated at the treatment he was receiving.

Starved of possession, the Cottagers were struggling to make any impression and in the 58th minute Zamora - now limping - was replaced by Clint Dempsey.

Petric fired a dangerous pass across goal but there was no Hamburg player to knock the ball home.

Boateng was lucky to escape a red card following an outrageous two-footed leaping tackle on Gera and Damien Duff went desperately close to turning the ensuing free-kick into the net.

Fulham set up the grandstand finish in the 70th minute, however, when Davies struck the equaliser.

Murphy hit a delicate lobbed pass that caught the Hamburg defence flat-footed and Davies reacted first, showing two great touches while fending of Demel before rifling home.

Pitroipa found the side netting but the tide was turning as Fulham, buoyed by Davies' goal, poured forward in search of the crucial second.

It came in the 76th minute, Davies sending in a corner that struck Demel and fortuitously fell to Gera who took one touch before poking home from close range.

Gera was mobbed by his ecstatic team-mates but there was still work to do as Hamburg rolled the dice.

Fulham, however, piled men behind the ball and it was Hamburg who had to survive a late scare when Rost hauled down Dempsey after running to the halfway line to help his outfield team-mates.

Schwarzer punched clear a late cross and the whistle went, sparking wild celebrations.