Fulham's fairytale continues

2010-04-01 23:11

London - Fulham are in pole position to extend their fairytale run in the Europa League to the semi-finals after beating Wolfsburg 2-1 in Thursday's quarter-final first leg.

Roy Hodgson's unfashionable team had already knocked out Italian giants Juventus and holders Shakhtar Donetsk en route to the last eight, but the German champions grabbed a last minute lifeline with a crucial away goal.

A devastating spell of two goals in four minutes from Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff midway through the second half put the Premier League team in control.

Wolfsburg finished strongly and Alexander Madlung's late away goal ensured a tense return in Germany next Thursday but the Cottagers at least have a lead to defend.

The Cottagers have been nursing something of a hangover since their remarkable 4-1 win over Juventus two weeks ago and had lost all three matches since celebrating the greatest result in their history.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Hodgson's decision to rest five key players against struggling Hull to save them for Wolfsburg's visit prompted relegation-threatened West Ham to complain to the Premier League.

But whatever West Ham thought, Hodgson had every reason to prioritise his team's first major European quarter-final and he was able to send out a refreshed full-strength team.

While that victory over Juventus had been packed with dramatic moments right from the start, this was always likely to be a more cagey affair because there was such a long way to go in the tie.

Neither side wanted to give anything away in the early stages and it took 20 minutes before Wolfsburg midfielder Christian Gentner had the first shot on target as his long-range strike brought a comfortable save from Mark Schwarzer.

Clint Dempsey, scorer of Fulham's winner against Juventus, went closer when he cut in from the left and struck a low shot which Diego Benaglio pushed away for a corner.

Wolfsburg certainly had the fire-power to trouble Fulham, with Edin Dzeko and Grafite boasting 11 goals between them in Europe this season.

But Brazilian striker Grafite smashed a shot wildly over the bar from a good position inside the Fulham penalty area.

Hodgson's team needed to play at a higher tempo to unsettle the Germans and they began to turn up the intensity levels just before half-time.

Dickson Etuhu looped a header over from Duff's corner and Dempsey dragged a hurried shot wide from 12 yards out.

A mistake from Fulham defender Brede Hangeland, who completely missed a harmless cross, gifted Dzeko a great chance early in the second half, but the Bosnian failed to capitalise as he headed wide from close-range.

Zamora made Wolfsburg pay for that miss as he opened the scoring in the 59th minute.

The former Tottenham striker took one touch to control a long pass from Zoltan Gera, turned away from Andrea Barzagli and curled a fine finish into the far corner for his 18th goal of the season.

Suddenly, Fulham had found their rhythm and they scored again four minutes later.

Paul Konchesky played a pass into Zamora and he showed impressive strength to hold off his marker and flick a pass to Republic of Ireland winger Duff, who guided a low first-time shot past Benaglio.

Fulham were firmly in control at that point but they sat back in the closing stages and Wolfsburg were able to snatch a priceless away goal in the 89th minute.

Zvjezdan Misimovic curled over a cross which Madlung met with a powerful header that flashed past Schwarzer.

Other results:

Fulham (England) 2, Wolfsburg (Germany) 1
Hamburg (Germany) 2, Standard Liege (Belgium) 1
Valencia (Spain) 2, Atletico Madrid (Spain) 2
Benfica (Portugal) 2, Liverpool (England) 1