It was not a good night for the remaining British clubs in the Europa League as all three crashed out with only a single goal between them.
Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw at Anfield against Portugueseside Braga, who having done well in their Champions League debut are starting to look like contenders in what is the consolation prize for the Champins League group stage nearly made its. Liverpool to be fair had the bulk of the possession but lacked the flair and creativity needed to break down the Braga defense, and they were lucky not to be caught out by the Portuguese sides break away attacks.
Big spending Manchester City were always going to be up against it with a 2 goal deficit against Dynamo Kiev, and once they went down to 10 men the tie was all but over. They did manage to salvage a little pride thanks to Kolarov’s 39th minute winner but 2-1 was the aggregate score and its the Ukranians who move on to the Quarter Finals. Manchester City fans will now have to hope they can beat their rivals United in the FACup semi final if they are to have a chance of ending their silverware drought.
Scotlands remaining representative Glasgow Rangers had a great chance of qualifying having held the dutch side 0-0 in their away leg, however they played a strangely cautious game and paid the price when Lens scored for PSV after 13 minutes. The stats which show Rangers only had 1 shot at goal pretty much sums up a disapointing game and the risk of Scottland losing a European place due to their performance ranking is starting to loom large.
So there will be no British Interest in the Europa League quarter finals, which compares starkly with the 3 representatives in the same stage of the Champions League.
In a season which began in July 2009 in the Europa League Qualifiers, Fulham finally ended it with a narrow 2-1 extra time defeat to Atletico Madrid in front of a crowd of 49,000 in Hamburg last night.
In an absorbing if not particularly thrilling final Atletico carved out most of the chances and it was not a great surprise when ex Manchester United striker Diego Forlan fired them into the lead in the 32nd minute with a typical poachers goal. However to their credit Fulham rallied strongly and after it appeared the chance had gone the ball somehow arrived to Simon Davies and he duly volleyed in the equaliser.
Fulham started the second half brightly but as time wore on they began to look tired and bereft of attacking ideas and as extra time loomed the Spanish side began to take control however Fulham held on and the game went into Extra Time.
Both teams looked desperately tired in extra time and with the prospect of a penalty shoot looming finally Fulham’s resolve was broken as Aguero got the better of a tired looking Chris Baird and whipped in a cross for Forlan and he touched into the net to end Fulham’s European adventure.
In what must rank as the best overall team performance of the season Fulham have reached their first ever European Final thanks to a 2-1 aggregate victory over Hamburg in the Europa League. Fulham have only competed in Europe once before back in 2002-3 season when they won the Intertoto cup and this season had to come through the third qualifying round and a playoff round just to reach the group stage.
The Bulgarian Cup Final will be of note this year as Chernomorets Pomorie became only the second non top league club to reach the final. In the semi final Chernomorets defeated fellow League B club Kaliakra Kavarna 3-0 on penalties after the tie finished 1-1 following extra time.
In the other Semi League A team Beroe Stara Zagora, League B Chavdar Etropole 1-0 and will now be strong favourites to win the final and gain a place in next seasons Europa League.
The Final will be played on 5th May at the Lovech Stadium, which only has a capacity of 7,050 probably reflecting the expected low crowd due to the final being contested by smaller clubs.
After credible results in their respective away legs last night the odds of an all English Europa League Final came a step closer. Fulham were forced to defend resolutely and with Bobby Zamora looking somewhat below par will be happy to return to the Cottage with a 0-0 draw which gives them a great chance of progressing. However they will have to be careful as Hamburg do have some great players and Rudd Van Nistelrooy is very capable of snatching a goal in dificult away games. Hopefully with Zamora fit again Fulham can advance.
Liverpool also came through a tough tie and will be confident of overturning the one goal deficit that was inflicted by Diego Forlan’s 9th minute goal and they now look favourites to win the cup. If they do meet in the final it will be the second time that there has been an all English Final with Tottenham having met Wolves in the final back in 1972 when it was a 2 legged final. The second legs are due to be played on 29th April.
Given the current situation with air travel UEFA are currently considering whether to postpone the Europa League Semi Finals, both of which involve English clubs. This is understandable given the difficulty involved in land and sea travel which would be required for the teams, so possibly giving the home team an unfair advantage. Fulham could probably manage things a little easier than Liverpool using the Euro Tunnel and rail to get to Hamburg, so there game could still go ahead but getting to Madrid will be a real problem for Liverpool so if any game is postponed it will be this one.
However the Champions League games will go ahead and Barcelona can look forward to a nice long coach trip of around 700 miles to Milan while Bayern’s trip to Lyon will be a lot easier.At least there will be some quality football to watch if you cant get on your flight.
After the disappointment of seeing both Arsenal & Manchester United crash out of the Champions league, the Premier League regained a bit of pride as both Liverpool and Fulham advanced to the Europa League semi finals, setting up the prospect of an all English final.
Liverpool’s comfortable win against an in form Lille last night will have come as welcome relief to beleaguered coach Rafael Benitez as they progressed to the last 8 of the Europa League. This is Liverpool’s only realistic chance of silverware and despite trailing 1-0 from the away leg there was little doubt that Liverpool would progress especially as Fernando Torres is looking like he is back to his best.
In the match an early penalty from Steven Gerrard and two goals from Torres was enough for an easy victory and both the England and Spanish international managers will be pleased by the performances of these two key players as they begin their World Cup Planning.
In what must rank as one of the greatest comebacks by an English club in Europe, Fulham against all the odds won 4-1 last night against the mighty Italians Juventus to progress into the Europa League Quarter Finals with a 5-4 aggregate win.
Training 3-1 from the first leg and given no hope of progressing by the bookmakers or pundits things looked very bleak when Training 3-1 from the first leg and given no hope of progressing by the bookmakers or pundits things looked very bleak when Trezeguat fired Juventus into an apparently unassailable 4-1 lead after just 2 minutes.
Fortunately Fulham responded well to this setback and pulled a goal back after 9 minutes and thanks to a controversial refereeing decision which saw Juventus reduced to 10 men when Cannavaro was sent off in the 26th minute started to dominate the game.
Fulham were further aided by Juve deciding to play their third choice keeper 39-year-old Antonio Chimenti who was short of match experience and it showed.
Twice in the 1st half he was well beaten but to Fulham’s dismay the woodwork denied them but in the 39th minute Hungarian International Zoltan Gera struck to put Fulham in from on the night. He then scored a penalty in the second half to level the tie and set up a thrilling final half hour.
With 20 minutes to go Roy Hodson produced what was to be an inspired substitution bringing on American International Clint Dempsey and in the 82nd minute he scored the goal which against all the odds took Fulham into the last 8 of the Europa League.
Juventus were reduced to 9 men in injury time when Zebina was sent off for a rash tackle probably born out of frustration.
I am sure everyone in English football will be delighted both for Fulham and especially Roy Hodgson who is probably the most under Rated manager in the Premier League.
The remaining English representatives in this seasons Europa League both lost their 1st leg away games last night. Fulham will now have an up hill task against Juventus losing 3-1 in Turin while Liverpool at only 1-o down to french side Lille will fancy their chances of over turning this at Anfield. This is now Liverpool’s only chance of a trophy and if they were to fail to progress it would heap more pressure on Rafael Benitez who’s position as manager is looking somewhat tenuous to say the least.
Fulham will of course be delighted with their performance overall and with an away goal there is always a chance of an unlikely comeback. The main surprise in this game was the poor crowd of only 11,406.