How time flies. It doesn’t seem eight years since Fulham, given next to no chance of progressing from a Europa League group comprising CSKA Sofia, Roma and FC Basel, went to Switzerland for a must-win final game without Paul Konchesky, Chris Baird and Erik Nevland – who were all suspended – and Simon Davies, Andy Johnson and Diomansy Kamara through injury.
When the team line-ups came through, it was clear that Roy Hodgson had half an eye on the visit of Manchester United to Craven Cottage three days later. Brede Hangeland and Damien Duff were only on the bench, although Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu did return in central midfield. Duff’s replacement, Bjorn Helge Riise, seized his opportunity by sending over two brilliant crosses that Bobby Zamora converted to put the Whites two up at the break.
Nerves started to jangle when Basel were awarded a soft penalty when Chris Smalling was adjudged to have handled in the box – especially when Alexander Frei rifled the spot-kick high past Mark Schwarzer. Just when it looked like being an uncomfortable denouement in the freezing cold, Fulham scored a brilliant third goal on the break. A flowing 15-pass move culminated in Stephen Kelly surging down the left and cutting the ball back for Zoltan Gera to tuck home – sparking joyous celebrations in front of the travelling fans.
There was still time for Marcelo Streller to reduce the hosts’ arrears from Valentin Stocker’s corner with three minutes to play, but Fulham actually finished the stronger with substitute Clint Dempsey somehow headed another Riise cross straight at the keeper when he was unmarked in injury-time. Basel, who had won all of their previous European home ties by at least a two goal margin, were out and Fulham had made the last 32. You can read our full report from the evening here
Hodgson praised Zamora, who was still getting some criticism from sections of the Fulham fanbase, for his contribution in leading the line, saying afterwards:
Bobby Zamora carried on from where he left off in the Premier League. I thought he was very unlucky to have a first goal ruled out for offside, and he was a real thorn in the flesh of the Basel defence.
I took him off as a precaution, he had a slight problem with his back. But he’s got to be delighted with his performance. Bobby is one of our more popular players, he has a chant of his own and the fans seem to appreciate and like him.
Reading them back now, his comments about where Fulham could go after qualifying from the group stages are remarkably prescient.
I am particularly pleased for the fans. I walked around Basel today and I was stopped by fans saying how much they were enjoying the adventure. I am looking forward to the next round, the draw to see who we get and then we see how far we can go. I wouldn’t mind playing Juventus.
We have done more than we set out to do. It’s been a bonus so far and now we face an even bigger bonus.