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Michael Taylor 22nd Apr 2010 - 13:57

Fulham’s journey ends in Hamburg

Beating the defending champions was impressive; romping home against Juventus was incredible but if Fulham can somehow see of Hamburg then it would have to be seen as their most remarkable yet following a staggering 570 mile coach trip.

The infamous ash cloud, which coincidently is already far better known than the Cottagers around Europe, has played havoc with many things in the past week but perhaps nothing quite as much as England's venture in the Europa League, at least in football terms.

Fulham's near 600 mile journey might not compare to Liverpool's 1200 mile journey but for Hodgson's side the stakes are far higher with his team just one round away from becoming the focus of an entire continent.

They've been underdogs from the start and it'll remain that way for as long as they stay in the competition - unfortunately I don't think that'll be for too much longer though.

This isn't to say Hamburg are a superb team either as their home loss to Mainz this weekend showed, you just have to believe that the Germans should just have the incentive and tactical knowledge to ensure they don't follow Wolfsburg's demise.

Head Coach Bruno Labbadia has come under a fair amount of scrutiny since joining the German giants -understandable really given his side's regression since Martin Jol's demise - however his team's form in Europe has been virtually unrecognisable compared with that in the Bundesliga.

A 2-1 win over Standard Liege at the HGH-Nordbank Arena, followed by a 3-1 battering in Belgium sounded them out as genuine cup contenders while in the meantime losses against Borussia Monchengladbach and Mainz and a draw against Hannover rendered them domestic underachievers.

All you have to do though is look at their squad and you get a fair idea of the potential within their ranks with the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Jarolim, and Ze Roberto providing both talent and big name excitement.

Though the 3-1 win in Liege slightly flattered in what was a heated affair they did more than enough to progress with the excellent Petric showing why he has so often been linked with big money moves - luckily though the skilful Croat is one man who Fulham won't have to worry about.

And you always know when you have players with such experience and ability that when big games like this crop up it's these types of players that really show up - and this is where Fulham could struggle.

You look through Hodgson's squad and while you can highlight people such as Brede Hangeland and Bobby Zamora as stars you fail to come across any genuine consistent match winners.

I know this hasn't stopped them in the past but they've never been in a major European semi-final in their past - this is a whole different kettle of fish in which is unchartered territory for the vast majority of the squad.

Zamora is once again the big hope and even his biggest critics have to admit that throughout the European campaign the former West Ham and Brighton man has raised his game to previously unseen levels.

It's thanks to his six goals in the past seven Europa Cup games that the Cottagers are in this position and it'll be up to him to lead the line and keep the likes of Mathijsen and Boateng from getting too far up the field.

If he can repeat his Wolfsburg heroics where he stunned the German champions with a first minute strike then you can get 9/1 (first goalscorer) however I'm not convinced Fulham have enough to break through the Hamburg rearguard.

The plan will be to keep it tight, and I'm sure Hodgson and co would be delighted to head back to Craven Cottage (0-0 correct score is priced 10/1), whether they can keep the Germans out though is a different matter.

Personally I just can't see it and while Hamburg won't run riot (nobody ever does against Fulham) they should be able to create a few good openings against some tired legs - 2-0 looking particularly interesting 7/1.

In terms of 90 minutes betting it'd take a brave man (or potentially stupid) to back Fulham to snatch yet another unlikely away win at what looks a tiny 9/2 whereas the home side at 4/6 is definitely where the value is.

Maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on the long journey; maybe it's a fact that'll prove irrelevant, I just have a gut feeling the ash cloud will cast a dark shadow over Fulham's European journey.



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