Poor old Facundo Sava now knows just how quickly you can go from hero to zero in football. He was the toast of the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham after his brace beat Liverpool on Saturday but switching off from his set piece marking duties cost Fulham a result in the first leg of the UEFA Cup third round tie against Hertha Berlin tonight.
The Argentinian striker completely lost Hertha skipper Stefan Beinlich from a corner as the Bundesliga side scored from virtually their first attack before scoring a freakish own goal to hand the hosts the advantage ahead of the second leg after Steve Marlet had scored a precious away goal for Jean Tigana’s side. What made it all the more galling was that the Whites had looked in absolute control of the contest in the early stages – and they now have a substantial hurdle to overcome in the return fixture at Queens Park Rangers.
This was Fulham’s first defeat of a lengthy European campaign after the Londoners qualified for the UEFA Cup by winning the InterToto Cup. The visitors looked sharper than Hertha early on in a deserted Olympiastadion with their patient passing appearing to promise plenty of opportunities in the final third. When the hosts did get a sight of goal, all they could muster was an almost apologetic effort from Michael Hartmann that hardly extended Edwin van der Sar.
Beinlich’s opening goal appeared to suck the life out of Fulham’s enterprising start as they mustered very little in the way of an attacking threat before half time. Sava’s tame header didn’t worry the home faithful whilst Steed Malbranque’s shot after a clever turn was easily fielded by Gabor Kiraly. A disappointed Tigana replaced Bjarne Goldbaek with Luis Boa Morte at half time and his side were level within seven minutes of the restart.
Malbranque delivered a majestic cross for Martin Djetou whose header had Kiraly rooted to the spot before bouncing off the woodwork, with Marlet in the right place to nod home from barely a yard out. The tide looked to have turned definitively. Only a stunning save from Kiraly kept out another Djetou drive after Boa Morte’s blistering run down the left wing, but Fulham were cruelly punished when Sava somehow sliced his attempted clearance from Marcelinho’s corner into his own goal.
Fulham pressed for a second equaliser with Marlet placing a header from Sean Davis’ cross directly at the Hertha Berlin goalkeeper and Steve Finnan saw his strike deflected off target. The Whites will need to be more clinical at Loftus Road on December 12th.
HERTHA BERLIN (4-5-1): Kiraly; Friedrich, van Burik, Nene de Brito, Marcelinho; Schmidt (Simunic 59), Dardai, Hartmann, Goor, Beinlich (Pinto 90); Alves (Preetz 59). Subs (not used): Sverrisson, Tretschok, Madlung, Fiedler.
BOOKED: Preetz, Dardai.
GOALS: Beinlich (25), Sava (o.g. 68).
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finna, Brevett, Goma, Melville, Davis, Djetou, Goldbaek (Boa Morte 45), Malbranque (Inamoto 79); Sava, Marlet. Subs (not used): Taylor, Knight, Wome, Clark, Stolcers.
GOAL: Marlet (52).
REFEREE: Dick van Egmond (Netherlands).