Great night for Fulham. Bitter end for Benitez
Hodgson's 'wonderful journey' reaches final with 2-1 win – but Reds manager may have no more to play for at Anfield
You lucky people! Somewhere in the comedians' Valhalla Tommy Trinder is reprising his catchphrase.
Even in his most imaginative routine Trinder could not have conceived that the club he loved and was chairman of from the Fifties to the Seventies would reach a European final, a feat they achieved last night with a 2-1 comeback victory against Hamburg.
In next month's Europa League final they will play Atletico Madrid, who knocked out Liverpool on away goals after extra time at Anfield. A goal from Alberto Aquilani forced the extra period and when Yossi Benayoun put Liverpool 2-1 ahead on aggregate an all-English final looked likely. But with 18 minutes remaining the former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan, who scored the only goal of the first leg, struck again.
Liverpool's defeat, after two draining hours, effectively ends their season, and as talk of their manager's departure for Juvenuts continues, questions will now be raised as to whether Rafael Benitez has led his final European adventure at Anfield.
But last night's match could yet have ramifications in the Premier League – after 120 minutes on the field, Liverpool on Sunday play a Chelsea team desperate not to drop points in their run-in. But last night belonged to another west London club.
If Fulham's contemporary fans are lucky, the team are in the 12 May final on merit. Theirs has been a long and winding road, taking in seven countries and 18 games over 10 months starting in Lithuania in July.
Last night they trailed to next month's hosts when a stunning 30-yard free-kick from Mladen Petric midway through the first half gave Hamburg a precious away goal. Fulham had only tested Frank Rost once previously in the tie – the Hamburg keeper denying Bobby Zamora in the second minute last night – but Simon Davies levelled the tie on the night with a well-taken volley 21 minutes from time. With the old Cottage rocking to the rafters Fulham scored again, Zoltan Gera turning to drive in Davies's corner.
"I thought it was a great performance because it would have been so easy for us to lose our heads after the great goal Petric scored," said Roy Hodgson, Fulham's manager. "We had been controlling the game and then found ourselves a goal down, knowing it was an away goal. It would have been easy to start playing in a way that did not suit us, but we were all determined to continue playing our way and hope it would lead to a goal. With good fortune that happened."
Fulham were on the brink of relegation when Hodgson took over in December 2007, surviving only on the last day of the season. "It has been a wonderful journey, an achievement as a coach I am really proud of," he said. "We have looked into the abyss once or twice. Everyone is proud we are just about to reach our 10th season in the Premier League. To reach a European final is an achievement for any team, including the top four."
Fulham's achievements have led to speculation that Hodgson might be lured away by a wealthier club, or even England. But Mohamed al-Fayed, the club's owner-chairman, said: "I don't think he'll leave me. I give him anything he wants to reach results and we have a good relationship," Fayed said.
Of Liverpool, Benitez said: "We were on top of them for a long time and we were there, but we knew we had to keep working because they could score. It was a pity they way they scored. They were up for it they had a lot of desire and quality, we know that. Liverpool football club is massive club, but we will try to do our best."
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