Roy Hodgson, in a rare admission of emotion, admitted he was "on top of the world", after Fulham's astonishing 4-1 humbling of Juventus to reach the Europa League quarter-finals last night. In other success for the Premier League, Liverpool also overcame a first-leg deficit to go through by beating Lille 3-0 at Anfield.
Hodgson is forever being asked, as Fulham go from one unexpected peak to another, whether this is the best performance of his career. Piqued at the English disregard for his long and successful time on the continent he usually demurs. This time he had to admit he had never been involved in a match like it as his side fought back from conceding an early David Trezeguet goal which made it 4-1 on aggregate.
"It must come close to the club's greatest night," Hodgson admitted after Clint Dempsey's audacious chip with seven minutes to go gave Fulham aggregate victory. "The atmosphere was electric from the first minute. We could not have had a worst start but the team started to play, the crowd got behind the team and we put it behind us.
"I've seen a lot of good performances from this team, they constantly surprise me," he added. "We are without players experts say we will miss, but others keep coming in and we don't.
"I always felt the task was achievable. Even when they scored I was aware we had 90-plus minutes to play, and by half-time I thought we were looking good to win. Our players are not as experienced as theirs are, but they have been in situations before and are intelligent."
Fulham have never progressed this far in Europe and while Hodgson has been to a European final, with Internazionale in 1997, he said this was probably a greater achievement. "We started in July, we will still be playing in April and maybe beyond. We have already played 16 games. That is more than I did in reaching the Uefa Cup final with Inter. To get this far in this competition is an achievement, especially as the Champions League clubs come into it."
Juventus are the second Champions League faller Fulham have beaten following their victory in the previous round over Shakhtar Donetsk.
Alberto Zaccheroni, the Juventus coach, admitted he had "feared Fulham's intensity but felt his team had been playing well until Fabio Cannavaro's dismissal for bringing down Zoltan Gera in the 27th minute after Bobby Zamora had made the score 1-1. That, he said, was the turning point and suggested the referee was "too strict" in showing Cannavaro red. Juventus were reduced to nine men in the final minute when Jonathan Zebina was also sent off
"You can't expect me to have too much sympathy with players sent off in this competition," Hodgson said. "We have suffered four or five reds and on each occasion I have felt it was unjust."
Zaccheroni also blamed injured absentees. "They had Del Piero, Iaquinta and Poulsen on the bench," noted Hodgson dryly, "that's a pretty strong bench and it was still a strong team. To beat Juventus 4-1 at any time, with players missing or not, with 10 men or 11, we had to play well."
Rafael Benitez believes his Liverpool side have gained substantial momentum ahead of Sunday's visit to Old Trafford. "We needed some confidence. We played really well the other day and today was good too. We have some confidence and hopefully we can get a result at Old Trafford," said Benitez.
The side played with an intensity which has been virtually unseen in them in Europe this season and it took Lucas Leiva only eight minutes to win a penalty which Steven Gerrard converted. Fernando Torres threatened all night, hitting the side netting before scoring twice in the second half. "He is working very hard with the physios and the fitness coach is really pleased because they are doing a fantastic job, he is very fit but he can improve," said Benitez.
Albert Riera will be transfer listed and suspended until Monday after his outburst against Benitez on Spanish radio this week. Riera attempted to neutralise his comments yesterday. "I have no problem talking to people," Riera said. "The most important thing is the best thing for the club. I am not interested in the slightest in Rafa being my enemy, totally the opposite, I do not want to create trouble, but in this situation I have little chance of going to the World Cup. I am trying to solve the problem so I at least have a small chance." Benitez said: "The timing was not the best for the team and we will deal with this internally."
Europa League: Quarter-finalists
Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Fulham, Hamburg, Liverpool, Wolfsburg, Standard Liège, Valencia
Quarter-final and semi-final draws take place today at noon in NyonReuse content