A late, late fightback that saw Fulham score two goals at the death preserved the Whites’ unbeaten record in European competition. Jean Tigana’s side were comfortably through after beating Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 in Croatia in the first leg, but they were a goal down after 89 minutes of this game until substitute Steed Malbranque turned the second leg on its head right at the last.
The Cottagers had wilted in the Loftus Road rain, trailing to an Ivica Olica header seven minutes after half time, and did not look like saving their unbeaten run in Europe, which stretches back to the summer’s InterToto Cup until Malbranque added some artistry when he stepped off the bench. The French midfielder fired in the equaliser as he finished off a flowing move began by Bjarne Goldbaek before turning provider for Luis Boa Morte to snatch victory in stoppage time.
That dramatic turnaround was in stark contrast to the dour encounter that had played out in a soaking Shepherd’s Bush. Fulham were indebted to Edwin van der Sar, who had made a string of fine saves to deny Olic an opener, much to the chagrin of the Croatian striker. The big Dutch goalkeeper also produced a brilliant stop to turn aside a powerful drive from left winger Dumitru Mitu, who had rattled the woodwork in the first meeting between the two sides.
Fulham appeared happy to sit on their three-goal cushion from the first leg, where their crisp counter-attacking exploited Dinamo’s indiscipline effortlessly. Unusually for Tigana, the focus on defensive resolution sacrificed the creativity of Malbranque as well as record signing Steve Marlet, who also found himself on the bench. As a result, the Whites struggled for rhythm with Japanese international Junichi Inamoto – the hero of that Intertoto Cup final victory over Bologna – consistently picking the wrong option in the final third.
Inamoto did drill just wide of the far post from distance whilst Facundo Sava was fractions away from connecting with a devilish cross from Rufus Brevett before being denied by a brilliant Ivan Turina save four minutes after the interval, but Fulham looked to have been punished for their safety first approach when Dinamo hit the front with their first move of genuine quality. Olic was delighted to have finally beaten van der Sar with a classical header after getting away from Andy Melville and it looked for a long time as if that would be the only goal of a forgettable game.
Fulham were largely restricted to long-range efforts like the ones taken by Sylvain Legwinski and Bjarne Goldbaek that didn’t trouble Turina before Boa Morte did draw a save from the Dinamo goalkeeper after darting into the penalty area with twenty minutes remaining. The late turnaround took everybody by surprise as Malbranque kept his composure to equalise on the night after Goldbaek had started a superb move – and the Frenchman threaded a fine ball through the visiting defence to give Boa Morte plenty of time to pick his spot in stoppage time.
FULHAM (4-5-1): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett (Djetou 72), Melville, Goma; Legwinski, Clark, Inamoto (Malbranque 64), Goldbaek, Boa Morte; Sava (Marlet 60). Subs (not used): Taylor, Ouaddoh, Wome, Stolcers.
GOALS: Malbranque (89), Boa Morte (90+1).
DINAMO ZAGREB (4-4-2): Turina; Sedloski, Smoje, Cesar, Krznar; Mikic, Kranjcar (Juric 76), Agic, Mitu; Olic, Balaban. Subs (not used): Butina, Mujcin, Zahora, Petrovic, Bosnjak, Drpic.
BOOKED: Smoje, Cesar.
GOAL: Olic (52).
REFEREE: Laurent Duhamel (France).