When Junichi Inamoto signed for Fulham, the wags reckoned it was a marketing ploy to sell more replica shirts on the back of his wonderful World Cup. Almost completely ignored by Arsenal, the Japanese midfielder was keen to prove himself in the Premiership and, having socred his first Fulham goal in the first leg of this tight Intertoto Cup final in Italy last week, he blew Bologna away with a brilliant hat-trick in just over half an hour.

Inamoto’s predatory finishing was not the only element to encourage Jean Tigana on a historic night for Fulham. He was hassling and harrying Bologna from the off, hoping to make an impression to earn a regular starting spot in midfield. There was precise passing and a few thunderous tackles as the man on loan from Gamba Osaka staked a claim to keep the likes of Steed Malbranque, a substitute here despite his stunning first season in England, and the experienced John Collins – also brought off the bench with the game won – out of the team.

Inamoto’s case is all the more compelling because his quality was arguably the difference between the sides. A lovely link-up with Facundo Sava, surprisingly preferred to Louis Saha up front, helped put Fulham in front on twelve minutes. Steve Finnan found Inamoto in the middle of the park and he released the Argentinian striker with a lovely pass. As Bologna defenders began to surround Sava, his return ball was perfectly weighted for Inamoto to find the far corner with a low shot from the edge of the box.

Fulham, who had began brightly, could easily have been further in front before a rare error from Inamoto handed Bologna a route back into the contest. Steve Marlet headed straight at Gianluca Pagliuca before the hat-trick hero hammered an effort into the side netting. He missed an opportunity to intercept a pass heading for Tomas Locatelli and Fulham were punished as the midfielder’s shot beat Edwin van der Sar with the aid of a heavy deflection off Zat Knight. The equaliser gave the Italians confidence and they felt they should have had a penalty just before the break when Carlo Nervo went down in the box, but Swiss referee Massimo Busacca booked the midfielder for diving instead.

The Whites made the perfect start to the second period, with Inamoto restoring their lead just 75 seconds after the restart. Inamoto latched on a poor clearance, cutting inside and firing home a majestic volley to settle any lingering nerves. He then made sure of Fulham’s progress into the UEFA Cup for the first time when he followed up from close range after Sylvain Legwinski’s shot had been saved. Tigana took off his matchwinner with eighteen minutes to go and Fulham, who were playing in English professional football’s bottom division six years ago, cruised into the mainstream European competition on a night that will live long in the memory.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Knight, Goma; Davis (Collins 74), Legwinski, Inamoto (Malbranque 72), Boa Morte; Sava, Marlet (Saha 72). Subs (not used): Taylor, Ouaddoh, Melville, Hayles.

BOOKED: Legwinski, Finnan.

GOALS: Inamoto (12, 47, 50).

BOLOGNA (4-3-3): Pagliuca; Zaccardo, Paramatti (Šmit 78), Falcone, Castellini; Olive, Colucci, Nervo, Locatelli (Frara 87); Signori (Bellucci 61), Cruz. Subs (not used): Coppola, Gamberini, Goretti, Meghni.

BOOKED: Olive, Nervo, Colucci, Paramatti.

GOAL: Locatelli (34).

REFEREE: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).