Schwarzer the stonewall hero as Fulham carry the fight home
Hamburg 0 Fulham 0
As a spectacle, this Europa League semi-final first leg would have had all but Fulham fans changing channels for the party leaders' debate, but Roy Hodgson's team should also have captured the vote of all devotees of defending.
The unheralded Premier League side delivered a masterclass in the art to earn a goalless draw that means they are a home win away from their first final since Alec Stock steered them to Wembley in the FA Cup 35 years ago. Then they had Bobby Moore and Alan Mullery, admittedly both well past their peak. Last night the key figure was Mark Schwarzer; but if the goalkeeper was called upon to produce a cluster of saves in the closing stages this was otherwise another superb team effort.
The only disappointments for Fulham were a recurrence of Bobby Zamora's Achilles injury, which forced him off before the hour, and the need to replace Chris Baird after the right-back was booked, incurring a suspension for Thursday's second leg at Craven Cottage. Also banned, however, will be Hamburg's dangerous flank midfielder Piotr Trochowski.
"We are very happy," said Hodgson. "The journey here was not the best so we were handed a ready-made excuse to not play as well as we can. I'm delighted we did not take that excuse and worked very hard to restrain a very good Hamburg team.
"The game is still very open," the Fulham manager added, "but we have given ourselves a chance for the second leg. It is easy to be put out of contention in the first leg of these ties. If you lose 3-0 you are asking for a miracle. We will not be asking for a miracle. We will be asking for another great performance but we have shown we are capable of that.
"Only [Serie A leaders] Roma succeeded in not losing at Craven Cottage and they equalised in the 96th minute when we were down to 10 men because the referee had wrongly sent one of our players off.
"But," cautioned Hodgson, "it is downright foolish to think we are through. It is 0-0 at half-time. If they score at Craven Cottage the advantage passes to them as we need to score two."
Schwarzer added: "The performance was fantastic, they were coming at us towards the end but only had a few chances really. It was a tough journey but we were fine."
Fulham certainly earned the right to fly back today after that draining 17-hour coach ride here. With Barcelona, Lyons and Liverpool all losing in European competition this week, the London club are the only team which hit the road and rails this week to return unbeaten.
Their first priority last night was to restrain Ruud van Nistelrooy, scorer of 10 goals in nine matches against Fulham in his Manchester United days. The Dutchman did not only have a first appearance in a European final to aim for, he is still hoping to win a place in the Netherlands' World Cup squad. He did drive into the box in the opening minutes, but was squeezed into shooting from a narrow angle, enabling Schwarzer to save. Thereafter he was anonymous.
Hamburg's pre-match revving up of the crowd included the unusual sight, and sound, of a rock band being hoisted into the air behind a goal on a huge cherrypicker to serenade them. Taking their cue the home team began brightly, Van Nistelrooy's burst being followed by a shot from Trochowski but Schwarzer again saved comfortably.
Fulham were largely content to defend en masse but did threaten in the 11th minute when Zamora turned Paul Konchesky's long forward pass into the path of Zoltan Gera. The Hungarian took a touch, which was enough to enable Jérôme Boateng to come across and deflect his shot just wide. Boateng, half-brother of Portsmouth's Kevin-Prince Boateng, is thought to be bound for Manchester City this summer for £11m. He was rarely tested defensively, but, given large amounts of possession, did not especially impress with his use of it.
His night was made easier by Zamora's lack of fitness. Hodgson indicated the striker would not play in the Premier League at Everton on Sunday, but hoped he would be able to take part in the second leg.
His replacement by Clint Dempsey made no difference to the pattern of the match. Fulham defended, Hamburg passed the ball without any problems in front of them, but lost possession as soon as they tried to penetrate. Not until the 70th minute was Schwarzer stretched, bringing off a trio of fine saves from Jonathan Pitroipa, Trochowski and David Jarolim.
Fulham quickly recovered their poise and with Schwarzer denying Mladen Petric at the near post late on they achieved their aim. They have now gone six hours since conceding; they have also gone six hours since scoring, but Hodgson declared: "We have goals in the team."
Hamburg (4-1-3-1-1): Rost; Demel (Rincon, 81), Boateng, Mathijsen, Aogo; Jarolim; Trochowski, Ze Roberto, Pitroipa; Guerrero (Petric, 72); Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used Hesel (gk), Rozenhal, Tesche, Berg, Torun.
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Duff, Baird, Etuhu, Davies; Gera; Zamora (Dempsey, 51). Substitutes not used Zuberbühler (gk), Kelly, Nevland, Smalling, Greening, Dikgacoi.
Referee C Bo Larsen (Denmark).
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