Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Forlorn Fulham 1, Forlan's Atletico 2, But They Had To Go To Extra Time

I HAD this awful feeling Fulham were going to get tonked in the last match of their incredible Europa League journey. Instead, they went down 2-1 to an extra-time strike from Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan.

Agony at the end of a long, long road for the Cottagers. The final in Hamburg tonight might have been for the Consolation Cup - the old UEFA Cup where Champions League failures go to moan - but for Fulham and Roy Hodgson, it meant the world.

The topic "Atletico Madrid" was trending on British Twitter as soon as the game got underway, so somebody cares. Mind you it was hardly a classic.

My old coach Woy's band of brave veterans and journeymen have travelled 25,000 miles and beaten holders Shakhtar Donetsk, the Old Lady of Italy Juventus, German champions Wolfsburg and hosts Hamburg.

They were 1-0 behind on the half-hour thanks to Forlan's sixth goal in Europe this season - his 24th of a prolific winter. And the Spaniards looked like turning my doom-laden hunch into a prophecy.

But within four minutes Fulham were back in it, Bobby Zamora appearing to miss the chance before setting up Simon Davies for the equaliser - he scored a vital goal in the semi against Hamburg too.

And there was Woy - I have to talk about him later on BBC Radio 5 tonight - urging his men on against a side far stronger on paper.

Mark Schwarzer, the veteran 33-year-old Australian No1, did his bit in keeping the Madridistas out. Clint Dempsey (above), also World Cup-bound with the US, grafted away. And Zamora showed once more how much he deserved a crack at Fabio Capello's squad.

Still, he's not alone in being told he has to stay at home this week. Ruud van Nistelrooy, 33, has been left out by the Dutch. Ronaldinho and Adriano – not to mention the old Ronaldo - languish in the also-rans for Brazil.

Incredibly, Argentina's crazed coach Diego Maradona decided to leave out Inter Milan's Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso despite their part in Jose Mourinho’s special surge to the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. And Patrick Vieira failed to push his way into the French provisional squad despite his recent appearances for Manchester City in the Premier League.

Bobatov is in good company. Forlan on the other hand, is very definitely headed for Group A of the World Cup with Uruguay, where Mexico, hosts South Africa and France await. On this evidence he could be quite a handful.

Just before the extra-time break, with the scores stuck at 1-1 for over an hour, he weaved a path through the Fulham rearguard but Atletico couldn't find a finisher.

But with the clock running down and penalties looming, he stuck out a boot, got a deflection of Hangeland, and Fulham's first ever European final ended in agony. But for Atletico the 45-year wait for a European trophy was over.

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