Fulham given German test after Juve heroics

German champions Wolfsburg offer hopes of semi-final spot for Hodgson

Glenn Moore
Saturday 20 March 2010 01:00

The Europa League's antecedents are commercial – the competition was originally the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, open to clubs from cities which hosted trade fairs – so it is a perhaps appropriate that Fulham's next match in their European odyssey could be a works XI fixture: Harrods v Volkswagen.

While the shopping emporium merely shares the same owner as Fulham, VfL Wolfsburg – their quarter-final opponents – are wholly owned by the car giant and were originally its works' team. They are now the German champions and their pairing was an anticlimactic reward for the dramatic dispatch of Juventus. Liverpool were given a tricky tie against Benfica, who knocked them out of the Champions League, winning home and away, when Rafael Benitez's side were holders in 2005.

While Liverpool supporters will enjoy a break in Lisbon, Fulham fans will be less enthralled by a trip to the industrial central German city, which was created to house Volkswagen workers in the Thirties. For Roy Hodgson and his players the tie offers beatable opposition, with Wolfsburg's form less impressive this season following the exits of the coach Felix Magath and playmaker Diego.

The latter was in the Juventus team vanquished at Craven Cottage on Wednesday, a victory which has given the team the belief they can beat anybody. "Can we go all the way? Why not?" said Clint Dempsey, the match-winner. "If you work hard and you believe, there's always a chance. And I believe. We're a team that has a lot of character and that has a lot of heart.

"Everybody thought it was over when we went 1-0 down, but the character and the heart of the guys began to show, we fought back and to get the result we did was incredible."

In reference to the team narrow's escape from the drop less than two years ago he added: "To go from relegation candidates to the quarter-finals of the Europa League is crazy. But you always have to be trying to better yourself and be moving in the right direction, and this club is doing that."

Wolfsburg's strength is in attack with Grafite, recently returned to the Brazilian side, much-coveted Bosnian Edin Dzeko, and Obafemi Martins, previously of Newcastle. Defensively they are less sound, as Michael Owen showed when scoring a hat-trick in Germany for a half-strength Manchester United side this season.

Should Fulham defeat Wolfsburg they will meet Hamburg, whose ground hosts the May final, or Standard Liège of Belgium.

Liverpool have a more daunting path. Should they overcome Benfica they will play Spanish opposition, Valencia, Rafael Benitez's former side, or Atletico Madrid.

Benfica, currently three points clear in Portugal, thrashed an injury-hit Everton 5-0 earlier in the competition, with Argentina's Angel De Maria to the fore. They also include Pablo Aimar, whom Benitez managed at Valencia. "We know they are a good team," said the Liverpool manager. "They are top of the table and playing really well. I know a number of their players well – Aimar, Javier Saviola, Javi Garcia – so it will be tough."

Europa League: Quarter-final draw

Fulham v Wolfsburg, Hamburg v Standard Liège, Valencia v Atletico Madrid, Benfica v Liverpool

Ties to be played 1 and 8 April

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