Liverpool and Fulham combined on Thursday to rescue England's European pride which was so badly bruised by the UEA Champions League exits of Manchester United and Arsenal.
Fernando Torres scored twice as Liverpool reached the UEFA Europa League semi-finals with a 4-1 win over Benfica, which clinched a 5-3 aggregate triumph and a last-four clash with Atletico Madrid, the Spanish striker's former club.
Unfashionable Fulham, who have already knocked out mighty Juventus, were indebted to a goal after just 19 seconds from in-form striker Bobby Zamora to see off German champions Wolfsburg 1-0 and a 3-1 aggregate victory. Roy Hodgson's Cottagers will face another German side Hamburg in the semi-finals as the prospects of an all-English final on 12 May were kept alive.
Rafael Benitez's Liverpool, trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Lisbon last week, were on their way at Anfield thanks to two goals in seven first half minutes from Dirk Kuyt and Lucas. Torres added a third in the second half before Oscar Cardozo's free-kick put Benfica within one goal of going through on away goals.
Just as Liverpool were getting nervous, Torres struck again in the closing stages as the Reds continue their bid for a first major European trophy since the 2005 Champions League.
"We can take massive confidence from this as they [Benfica] are flying in their league and next season will probably be in the Champions League," Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said after the game. "Before the draw was made they were the ones that everyone was trying to stay away from so this is a great result."
Zamora, who scored in the 2-1 first leg win in London, bolstered his hopes of an England 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ call with a goal after just 19 seconds at Wolfsburg as Fulham reached the last four of a European competition for the first time. His goal was out of the top drawer as he neatly turned inside Jan Simunek to find the target with a sweet left-foot drive.
"It was that quick and early that I had nothing to think about," the scorer remarked after the final whistle. "It was just hit the target and I managed to score."
Hamburg, who will also host the final, saw off Standard Liege in their quarter-final winning 3-1 in Belgium for a 5-2 aggregate win. Croatian international Mladen Petric scored twice while Paolo Guerrero added a third in injury-time. It was a rare bright spot for the Peruvian striker who earlier had been banned for five Bundesliga matches for hurling a bottle at a heckling Hamburg fan last weekend.
Quique Sanchez Flores guided Atletico Madrid to their first European semi-final in 11 years after a 0-0 draw against fellow Spaniards Valencia put them through on the away goals rule. The first game ended in a 2-2 draw.