Fulham sweat on Duff and Zamora

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The Independent Online

Roy Hodgson is playing a waiting game in the hope that Damien Duff and Bobby Zamora will be fit for the biggest night in Fulham's history.

Neither Duff nor Zamora will play against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

But Fulham's two most influential players could yet give Hodgson a boost by recovering in time for the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid in Hamburg on Wednesday night.

Duff is spending hours in an oxygen chamber to try to speed the healing process on the leg he injured against Hamburg in the semi-final while Zamora is making slow progress and might require a repeat of the painkilling injection he had in his troublesome Achilles before the semi-final.

Hodgson describes Zamora's chances as "in the lap of the gods" and insists he will decide after training tomorrow whether or not to rest a bunch of his first-team players against the Gunners on Sunday.

But he is desperate to pencil in the names of Duff and Zamora for Wednesday.

Hodgson, who worked with the young Duff at Blackburn and signed him in the summer from Newcastle, said: "If Damien and Bobby are unable to play in the final it will be a major, major blow because they are players who have played a decisive part in getting us where we are today.

"Duff is outstanding. When the annals of Irish history are written, and there have been some good players over the years, he will be right up there with them. He'd have 100 caps already but for one or two serious injuries.

"He's been the Damien I got to know as a young boy at Blackburn. Several people tried to dissuade me that he was a totally different player I was signing but I'm pleased to say they were wrong and I've been right.

"If anything he's a better player today because he was always very clever in his play but the 10 years of experience has not done him any harm.

"Damien Duff didn't come to Fulham for money, that's for sure. If he'd wanted serious money he would have stayed at Newcastle to see his contract out. He came here to play football."

Hodgson admitted he was disappointed the Premier League had rejected Fulham's request to play the Arsenal match tomorrow in order to give them an extra day to prepare for the final.

The match is likely to be meaningless, although if Fulham were to beat Arsenal and Tottenham win away at Burnley then the Gunners would drop to fourth place and Tottenham would gain automatic qualification to the Champions League group phase.

Hodgson said: "When was the last time we won at the Arsenal? It probably goes back to about 1936. Arsenal will be expecting to beat us whatever team we put out.

"I did not use any foul means to put pressure on the Premier League. We submitted the request backed up by the argument that it would be much better for us if we had an extra day's preparation. And at the time it was not going to be decisive for third or fourth place."

The chances are Hodgson, against Arsenal, will make seven or eight changes from the team which lost to Stoke in midweek.

Inevitably, the focus of attention is on the final against Atletico but there is no sense Fulham are going to make up the numbers.

Hodgson said: "You only enjoy it if you play well. If Fulham go out and we play like we can and the players feel they have not left anything behind on the field, then we'll enjoy it.

"If there's any sense of 'We didn't perform today' or 'I didn't get to our normal standard' we would be very disappointed.

"As a manager to tell your players to enjoy games might be okay if you have a Sunday team of Under 11s, but when you get to serious football you have to forget that word enjoy. You enjoy victories and you hate defeats."

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