Strange old game in Turin tonight. Fulham played well in parts and looked much better as the second half went on, presumably after being given a bit of a rollicking by Roy Hodgson at half time, but you’ve got to wonder whether three dismally soft goals have given the London too much to do in the second leg at the Cottage next week. The much more cohesive display from the Premier League side after the break hinted at just how they might hit on some success against Juve down by the Thames but you sense that the Italian side’s third goal, scored by David Trezeguet in the third minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half, might just prove decisive.
Hodgson’s team selection suggested his mind was purely on getting something against la Vecchia Signoria. Paul Konchesky returned to the starting line-up at left back, making his first start for Fulham since a foot injury at Blackburn curtailed his season, but other than that this was the same side that had prolonged their unbeaten run in the FA Cup against Spurs on Saturday night. Perhaps the most intriguing inclusion was that of Clint Dempsey. sporting an almost Romanesque beard as Rich pointed out the other day, on the bench.
Objective number one for Hodgson would have been trying to blunt the Biachanneri’s cutting edge. Tasked with stopping the dangerous Diego was the midfied pairing of Greening and Etuhu. I don’t think Fulham were half as bad as the usual doom and gloom merchants suggest. Bobby Zamora looked to be clean through as early as the second minute but was stopped in his tracks by a contentious offside call.
That’s not to say Juve didn’t hit their straps early with Diego to the fore. Trezeguet was in the mood too – beating Hangeland to a left-wing cross and appearing to have found the far corner with a glancing header, only for Schwarzer to make a great save. The reprieve last barely seconds. Diego’s invited corner was headed in by Nicola Legrottaglie, whose downward header skipped up off the wet surface and above the desperate attempt of Konchesky to keep it out.
Hodgson’s side looked a little nervous, perhaps understandably so, but a nice bit of keepball settled the nerves. In the blink of an eye, a strong run from Damien Duff took him to the byline and his low cross surprised an off-balance Simon Davies, who missed his kick.
Punishment for that miss was coming soon, but not before Marchisio robbed Jon Greening and wasted a glorious chance to run at a retreating red line by shooting from 20 yards. Perhaps he should have passed the ball to Jonathan Zebina instead, because I’m not sure the full-back will ever hit a shot as sweet as the one that flew in via the past from 25 yards as long as he lives. Candreva did brilliantly to create the space for Zebina but Davies and Etuhu will probably be reminded of the need to close people down around the edge of the box given their rather shambolic attempts to do so.
Then out of nothing Fulham had an away goal. The reason I get frustrated with Etuhu is he can do things going forward and this was an example. Sure, his hopeful shot from a half-cleared free-kick was going wide and took a hell of a deflection off Legrottaglie to wrongfoot Alex Manninger.
Getting to half-time at 2-1 was crucial, but the goal galvanised Fulham. They could so easily have been level moments later. Hangeland met a corner with a thumping header and Manninger saved, but two things were evident. First, how close did Zoltan Gera get to diverting it past the ex-Arsenal custodian and, second, how did the fifth/87th official miss the most blase bit of shirt-tugging on the Norwegian as he went up for the header?
You could forgive a toddler for tugging on the jumper of someone as they demand attention, but not a central defender. Indeed, the sneaky Cannavaro, full of shirt tugs, sneaky kicks and smiles with the referee, fought a running battle with Bobby that’s worthy of further exploration.
Fulham weren’t finished there either. Zamora did brilliantly to volley a cross first time towards goal but it was at a comfortable height for Manninger. Getting to 2-1 at half-time was now crucial. You thought they might have managed it when Schwarzer made a splendid save from a Grosso strike, what with two minutes being added on for stoppages but the referee decided to allow the corner to be taken. It was another scrappy set piece goal that will have irritated Hodgson with Trezeguet, able to take two shots at goal under no real pressure, the second of them squirming into the far corner.
Fulham were much improved in the second half, commendably keeping both their shape and their discipline as Juve probed for the fourth goal that would have killed off the tie. Diego’s low strike almost surprised Schwarzer and Vincenzo Iaquinta really should have buried a free header. But Fulham had chances too, most notably in the last quarter, when Clint Dempsey made an encouraging return. Legrottaglia will miss the second leg for cynically handling the ball as Gera looked to free Duff down the right and that will leave the Bianconeri hoping that Chielini recovers from a thigh strain that reportedly isn’t as bad as first thought.
Plenty of pride again at a battling Fulham performance and our band of travelling fans that made themselves heard in a ridiculously deserted stadium throughout. As much as we would have loved another away goal, this one isn’t over yet.
JUVENTUS (4-3-2-1): Manninger; Zebina, Grosso, Legrottaglie, Cannavaro; Poulsen (Sissoko 76), Salihamidzic (Camoranesi 45), Marchisio; Candreva, Diego; Trezeguet (Iaquinta 63). Subs (not used): Pinsoglio, Gygera, De Ceglie, Del Piero.
GOALS: Legrottaglie (9), Zebina (25), Trezeguet (45+3).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes; Etuhu, Greening, Duff, Davies (Dempsey 61); Gera; Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Kelly, Marsh-Brown, Nevland.
REFEREE: Florian Meyer (Germany).