Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Athletico Madrid 2 - 1 Fulham (aet) part 2

The game - a strong line-up. Possibly the strongest although there is the debate at right back over Baird and Paintsil. I've a feeling Johnny might have got the nod if he hadn't picked up a knock, but Baird has had a great season and deserved a chance in the final. It didn't look as though he was going to take it particularly well, but got better as the game went on.
Strangely, Hangeland aside, the most jittery player appeared to be Danny Murphy - the only player on the pitch to have already won this trophy. It was from one of his quite frequent wayward passes that the first chance of the game came and Diego Forlan placed a shot against the foot of the far post.
It was a warning of things to come, but for some reason Fulham couldn't raise their game to match the flow of the Spaniards. But when Atletico took the lead, their goal enjoyed a huge slice of fortune - which tends to decide close games. Aguero mis-kicked a volley across the area, which fell so kindly for Forlan that he couldn't refuse the opportunity to pass it into Schwarzer's goal. From our viewpoint, which was more or less in line with the goal, Forlan looked a mile offside. Only today have I seen a reply and it's far, far closer than we thought, but could still easily have been given offside.
This perceived injustice at the time made me furious and I was barking my support down at the pitch, along with 13,000 other Fulham fans - I've seen fewer for games at the Cottage, so to have this number in Hamburg was a little weird, yet brilliant. The Madrid fans, more used to reaching finals, were a bit more organised with their massive banners and bouncy chanting, but the SW6 lot were in great voice too.
Suddenly an equaliser appeared out of nowhere. A not very mobile Bobby Zamora turned his marker with ease, took a touch too many and poked it towards Duff, who managed to squeeze it across to Zoltan Gera. The Hungarian dinked a little cross back towards Zamora, but a defender's head saw it look slightly over the forward. Fortunately Simon Davies had tucked in behind and executed a crisp volley which snuck in at the near post. I went mad as to me this was a justified equaliser after what I considered at the time to be Forlan's 'non-goal' and I roared my appreciation.
Looking back, that moment is probably the pinnacle of Fulham's history. A goal in a final - a European one, no less. This has never happened before for the whites and could be a long, long time before it ever happens again. A moment to savour retroactively.
The rest of the half continued in the same shape as what had gone before, Atletico with a decent attacking intent, but the Fulham defenders restricting them to long shots, the odd dangerous cross from Simao aside.
Fulham, so often a second half team this season, once again followed the script and came out far stronger and more adventurous for the second 45. Murphy stopped trying to force the issue and relaxed his game, which was encapsulated by a fantastic through ball to Gera. Unfortunately Zolly, who has been so deadly in Europe this year, was way too heavy with his first touch and the ball just ran through to the Atletico goalie, who reacted badly to Gera's legitimate attempts to reach the ball first.
Then Bobby Z had to be taken off, his injury problems all too apparent on this big stage and he was once again replaced by Clint Dempsey - a switch that has recently seen the frontline become more fluid. Not in this match though as Zamora's ability to hold the ball was massively missed by Fulham and any attacking forays by the whites ended up with Gera and Dempsey isolated. This is partly down to Hodgson's tactics in not letting the full-backs press up for fear of being hit on the counter attack, but when you've got a holding midfielder who has been told to be conservative in his passing, and I'm sure Dickson Etuhu was following orders with his wide range of sideways and backwards passes, there needs to be a bit more movement in the opposition half.
Still the defensive side of things was going swimmingly, with only wayward longshots heading anywhere near Schwarzer and I must admit to being quitely hopeful when Madrid took off what I considered to be their dangermen in Reyes and Simao. But the game fizzled out, although in injury time it looked very much like Hangeland had brought down Aguero in the penalty area. However the referee was better placed than I was and told the Argentine to get up. On replays it doesn't look like a foul, but you have seen them given.
So in my mind at the time Fulham had been given a bonus 30 minutes, although I was wary of the fact that Liverpool had been put to the sword in extra time by Forlan at Anfield.
Unfortunately this was to happen again, but before that Athletico had a goal chalked off at the end of the first period of extra time. At least that's what we all thought. I've just watched the replay again and again and only on the fourth time of viewing did I realise that Aguero actually put the ball into the side netting rather than the goal. That's weird. I'd concoted an explanation that the guy who put the cross in originally had tapped the ball into the goal from his team mates shot and was thus in an offiside position. But the crosser was miles off the pitch when the shot came in.
Still the second period starts and we look like we are dribbling into penalties when an Atheltico cross comes over and Forlan, once again darting in front of defenders, got a touch - you can't really call it a shot. But the ball then came off the underside of Hangeland's outstretched leg and squirmed past Schwarzer. Another slice of luck to the Spanish, and we knew then it was over. Greening replaced the immobile Murphy, who had presumably been left on for penalties, but with only four minutes remaining the gig was up and we all knew it. Which is why, with a couple of minutes left to play, the Fulham fans spontaneously burst into a round of applause for the team and all it has done for them this season. At the end of the match Atheltico were the better team and worthy winners of the game, but the Fulham fans were proud at what had gone before and wanted to let the players know that by clapping. It was an oddly touching and appropriate finale to a bonkers season, of which Fulham may never see the like again.



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