Nights don’t get much better than that. From agony to ecstasy in 90 stirring minutes. With the game still very much delicately poised after the first leg in Turin, Fulham were pretty confident that they could breach the Juventus defence twice to progress to the quarter finals of the Europa League. That they scored four goals defied belief – and reason – especially after an early David Trezeguet strike seemed to have extinguished any hopes they had of progressing.
Much of the belief that coarses through black and white veins these days is the result of Roy Hodgson’s reign. The methodical coach inspired one of the greatest escapes in league history when he lifted a relegation-threatened side to safety with a rousing run of late victories and then topped even that achievement by taking his charges to seventh in the Premier League in his first season in charge. Even Fulham’s European run has had it’s fair share of drama: a thrilling 3-2 win in Basel took them out of a tricky group and they clung on for dear life in Donetsk to send the defending champions out.
Few would have given them little chance of sending Alberto Zaccheroni’s side packing once Trezeguet had pounced on some poor defending to fire in a cross from Hasan Salihamidzic that both Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland had failed to clear. Fulham responded well to the strife they found themselves in and their belief remained intact. The first of several threatening runs from Damien Duff produced a cross that narrowly eluded Simon Davies at the back post – and the Craven Cottage crowd roared their approval.
They didn’t have to wait long for a goal to convince them that the tie was far from over. Paul Konchesky surged forward down the left and floated over a deep cross to the back post. Bobby Zamora held off the attentions of Fabio Cannavaro with ease, something which Fabio Capello would do well to note, and drove home an unstoppable finish. Referee Bjorn Kuipers was unmoved by Juve protests about the legitimacy of Zamora’s challenge, but worse was to come for Canavaro.
Fulham were inspired by the goal and pushed Juventus, so comfortable in the early stages onto the back foot. A deep cross from Stephen Kelly encouraged Zoltan Gera to climb at the back post and his clever header looked to have played Zamora in again, only for Cannavaro to make a fine saving tackle. Hangeland found himself free from a corner but nodded an inviting ball from Davies over the bar.
Then came more drama. Gera looked to be the favourite to reach a defence-splitting pass after Zamora had slipped a pass through a square Juve backline but was sent crashing to the ground. Canavarro was furious at the red card that followed, protesting that his colleagues might have made an interception, but the angle at which the ball was travelling made the Hungarian favourite to reach it, and left the referee with little alternative once he deemed it a professional foul. Zamora came close to putting Fulham in front on the night from the free-kick with Juve’s 39 year-old third choice goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti making a fine save.
Fulham came even closer twice before the break. Davies surprised everyone by going for goal from a seemingly hopeless angle but the ball cannoned off the top of the far post. Dickson Etuhu then struck the crossbar from a corner after he found space to head goalwards in the six yard box and, just as Fulham were cursing their misfortune, Hodgson’s side found the perfect tonic just before the break. Zamora sprayed the ball beautifully into the box and Davies did well to send a low first-time cross into the six yard box, where Gera swept home on the run.
Gera didn’t have long to wait for his second goal. His smart backheel gave Duff the opportunity to burst into the penalty area and the Irishman forced a mistake from Diego, as the Brazilian handled his cross. Again, Juventus protesting vehemently to the referee, but to no avail. After a long wait, Gera stepped forward to slot home the penalty and level the tie. The comeback was well and truly on now.
Fulham had most of the pressure during the second period, although a mistake from Hangeland might have been a bit more costly. Attempting to nick the ball away from Diego, the Norwegian found himself turned and the Brazilian’s floated ball found Trezeguet goalside of Hughes. The French striker snatched at his shot, though, and the ball trickled through to Mark Schwarzer.
Fulham continued to come forward and their pretty passing was beginning to make an impression on the Juve goal. Davies stung Chimenti’s palms with a fierce shot from the edge of the box and Zamora came very close to sliding in a cross from Duff as Fulham poured forward. It took a substitution from Hodgson, who brought on Clint Dempsey for full-back Stephen Kelly, to turn the tie decisively Fulham’s way. It was somehow fitting that Dempsey, who made his return to first team action in the first leg, made the difference. The American had a header clawed away by Chimenti with his first touch, but the veteran goalkeeper had no answer to a majestic chip into the far corner from 20 yards, as the visiting defence stood off him.
Zaccheroni threw on Alessandro Del Piero with time ticking away but his efforts to save the tie were undermined by more ill-discipline. Jonathan Zebina’s European adventure ended with a red card as the scorer of the pick of the first leg goals was sent off for a spiteful challenge on Duff, which he then compounded with complaints to the referee.
The fact that the Italians were down to nine men by the end shouldn’t diminish Fulham’s achievement. Hodgson’s side battled through early adversity and deserved their rewards for an adventurous performance that would have left many a neutral purring. The good times are certainly back at the Cottage.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly (Dempsey 71), Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Etuhu, Duff, Davies; Gera (Riise 85); Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Marsh-Brown, Dikgacoi, Nevland.
GOALS: Zamora (9), Gera (39, 49), Dempsey (82).
JUVENTUS (4-3-2-1): Chimenti; Salihamidzic, Grosso (Del Piero 85), Zebina, Cannavaro; Sissoko, Melo, Camoranesi (De Ceglie 52); Candreva (Gygera 28), Diego; Trezeguet. Subs (not used): Pinsoglio, Poulsen, Marrone, Iaquinta.
BOOKED: Melo, Camoranesi, Diego.
SENT OFF: Cannavaro (28), Zebina (88).
REFEREE: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland).
GOAL: Trezeguet (2).