Fulham seal miracle revival
Fulham staged a stunning fightback to reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals with a 4-1 victory against nine-man Juventus that clinched a 5-4 aggregate triumph over the Italian giants on Thursday.
Roy Hodgson's Premier League side went into the last 16 second leg clash as heavy underdogs after losing 3-1 in Turin last week and their European adventure looked almost over when David Trezeguet gave Juve an early lead at Craven Cottage. But Bobby Zamora's strike gave the hosts hope and, after Juve defender Fabio Cannavaro was sent off, Zoltan Gera struck twice to draw Fulham level on aggregate.
Juventus, twice European champions, gave a dismal display and American forward Clint Dempsey came off the bench to score a superb late winner before Jonathan Zebina was dismissed for kicking Damien Duff.
If Fulham needed any encouragement to believe they could over-turn the first leg deficit, they only had to look at Juve's last match - a 3-3 draw with Siena which saw Alberto Zaccheroni's team squander a three-goal lead. Juventus were also without Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and deputy Alex Manninger, forcing Zaccheroni to field 39-year-old third-choice Antonio Chimenti.
Fulham had eliminated holders Shakhtar Donetsk in the previous round and Dickson Etuhu's priceless away goal in Turin last week ensured they still harboured hope of a famous victory. The raucous atmosphere before kick-off set the stage for a Fulham assault, yet Trezeguet seemed to have delivered a massive blow to the home side's dreams in the second minute.
When Hasan Salihamidzic floated a cross into the penalty area, Juventus midfielder Diego stumbled as he tried to shoot and Brede Hangeland had a chance to clear the danger. Instead the Fulham defender could only scuff the ball towards Trezeguet and the Juve captain made him pay by steering his low shot past Mark Schwarzer.
Hodgson's side responded superbly and Zamora gave them a lifeline in the ninth minute. Paul Konchesky whipped over a cross from the left and, as veteran defender Cannavaro lost his footing, Zamora controlled expertly on his chest before driving a first-time shot past Chimenti for his 16th goal of the season.
Cannavaro was showing his age as Zamora and company buzzed around him. The 36-year-old FIFA World Cup™ winner was caught out again in the 25th minute when he clipped Gera after Zamora's pass sent the Hungarian clear and referee Bjorn Kuipers, ruling the offence a professional foul, was quick to flash the red card.
It took a superb save from Chimenti to deny Zamora from the resulting free-kick. Then Simon Davies went even closer with another free-kick, this time an inswinging effort which deceived Chimenti and hit the bar. Only the woodwork saved Juve again when Etuhu met Duff's corner with a powerful header that stuck a post. But the Italians were unable to stem the tide and Fulham got the second goal their pressure deserved in the 39th minute when Zamora's flick gave Davies the chance to slide over a low cross that Gera lifted into the roof of the net.
The half-time interval offered Juve a chance to regroup but they didn't take it. In the 49th minute Diego gave away a penalty as he stuck out a hand to block Duff's cross and Gera stepped up to send Chimenti the wrong way from the spot. Fulham's relentless tempo had been too much for Juve and Dempsey had a chance to win it when Davies's cross picked him out, but his header was pushed away by Chimenti.
Dempsey didn't need to rue that miss for long. In the 82nd minute, he took Etuhu's pass on the edge of the penalty area, looked up and lofted a sublime chip over Chimenti to seal arguably the greatest result in Fulham's history.