Bobby Zamora continued his hot run of form as Fulham defied snow and plunging temperatures in Switzerland to secure their place in the knockout stages of the Europa League at the expense of Basle last night.
Zamora, tipped last week by the Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson, as just the kind of player England will need at the World Cup, capped a classic centre-forward performance with two goals just before the interval. The striker has now scored four in his last three games and was given a standing ovation from the 1,200 travelling Fulham supporters when he was replaced by Damien Duff in the 80th minute.
Zoltan Gera put Fulham 3-1 ahead with a neat side-footed finish after Basle had profited from a penalty awarded against Chris Smalling.
Although Basle set up a nervous last few minutes with a late second goal, Fulham held out to join group winners Roma, who overcame CSKA Sofia 3-0 in the other game in Group E last night, in the last 32 of the competition.
Hodgson was full of praise for his striker. "Bobby Zamora carried on from where he left off in the Premier League," he said. "I thought he was very unlucky to have a first goal ruled out for offside, and he was a real thorn in the flesh of the Basle defence.
"I took him off as a precaution, he had a slight problem with his back. But he's got to be delighted with his performance. Bobby is one of our more popular players, he has a chant of his own and the fans seem to appreciate and like him. The one criticism is he hasn't scored enough goals but nine goals is a pretty good return for any forward."
The draw for the first knockout round is tomorrow and, although Fulham cannot draw Liverpool, they could be paired with Juventus or Atletico Madrid who also dropped out of the Champions League.
"I don't know whether I am enthusiastic [now we have qualified], I am very satisfied. I am particularly pleased for the fans," Hodgson said. "I am looking forward to the next round, the draw to see who we get and then we see how far we can go. I wouldn't mind playing Juventus. We have done more than we set out to do."
Hodgson has used the Europa League games to give his fringe players an opportunity to shine. Bjorn Helge Riise is one such player and the Norwegian supplied both crosses for Zamora's goals. First, Fulham launched a counter-attack from a dubiously awarded free-kick, Riise swung a perfectly weighted cross behind the Basle defence and Zamora threw himself at the ball to score from six yards.
Zamora then executed a textbook piece of centre-forward play, chesting the ball down for Riise to surge down the right before arriving at the far post to head Fulham into a two-goal lead.
But Gera, another of those given his chance in Europe, soon sealed Fulham's victorious passage into the last 32. Clint Dempsey, who had just come on for Jonathan Greening, sent Stephen Kelly clear down the left and pulled a low cross that Gera side-footed into the corner.
Basle striker Marco Streller scored three minutes from time to set up a nervous finale but Fulham held out.
Basle (4-4-2): Colomba; Inkoom, Abraham, Atan, Safari (Shaqiri, 46); Carlitos ( Schurpf, 79), Cabral (Almerares, 46), Huggel, Stocker; Frei, Streller. Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Gelabert, Ferati, Sahin.
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Smalling, Hughes, Kelly; Riise, Etuhu, Murphy, Greening (Dempsey, 70); Gera; Zamora (Duff, 80). Substitutes not used: Stockdale (gk), Hangeland, Saunders, Briggs, Uwezu.
Referee: S Johannesson (Sweden).Reuse content