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Michael Taylor 11th May 2010 - 16:21

Gera could be the key to fulfilling Fulham's dream

Fulham's rise from relegation fodder to Europa League finalists under the guidance of Roy Hodgson has been well documented, less documented though have been the match winning performances of Zoltan Gera.

The tricky Hungarian forward has, in many ways, been the unsung hero of the Cottagers' storming run this year, chipping in with vital goals without receiving the praise of the likes of Bobby Zamora.

So important has he been that it was his 76th minute strike at Craven Cottage that allowed the impossible dream to continue as Hamburg became the latest victims of a rousing Fulham comeback.

That winner, added to a brilliant double against Juventus and a fine effort against the defending champs Shakhtar Donetsk, have all been as vital as any of Zamora's contributions yet he still seems to be slightly under the radar - which is one of the major reasons behind their success.

Zamora takes the plaudits while Gera battles away to great effect; it's worked well so far and if Atletico Madrid don't recognise his threat then they could be in for a terrible ride.

This isn't to say he's gone completely unnoticed having netted six times however you can still get a massive 9/1 about him netting either the first/last goal - and how's it going I wouldn't put a final winner beyond him.

As for Madrid it sounds crazy but they need to avoid the old adage of underestimating their opponents.

The whole set-up smacks of the 2006 UEFA Cup final in which Steve McClaren's battling Middlesbrough finally came unstuck as a brilliant Sevilla outfit tore through them winning 4-0 in the end.

Atletico undoubtedly have the big stars and European pedigree, the question is do they have the discipline to see the job through?

If you look at their La Liga form then the answer would have to be a resounding 'no', their Europa League form on the other hand tells a completely different tale.

You can simply never rule out a club that defeats Rafa Benitez's Liverpool over two legs even if the Reds' season has been nothing short of a complete flop.

Benitez, in the two leg knockout format, is one of the shrewdest tacticians around so for Atletico to send them packing speaks volumes for the potential of this club.

Players such as Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and Jose Reyes are household names throughout Britain and for good reason - when this attacking trio ticks then they cause problems for any defence, never mind Fulham's starless backline.

Coach Quique Sanchez Flores will be looking towards Juventus' first leg performance against Fulham for inspiration which was probably the only time during their run that they came under severe pressure.

Wolfsburg and Hamburg couldn't break down the white wall and not even Shakhtar, for all their glorious passing and moving, had unbridled success - Atletico have the players capable but they really will need to be at the top of their game.

The most likely to threaten would appear to be Diego Forlan who has been one of Atletico's few consistent performers over what has been a relatively turbulent season.

The former Man Utd man scored the decisive goal that dumped Liverpool out of the competition and he's also looked in great nick domestically leading the team with an impressive 18 goals, 11 of which have been the opening goal of the game.

He's 5/1 to grab the first here which could represent a good bit of business, more importantly though he's 5/4 to breach the defence at anytime and for Madrid to succeed you have to believe their star players need to come to the forefront.

Atletico simply can't play keep-ball for 90 minutes otherwise Brede Hangeland and co will sit back and take it with ease.

Hodgson, unlike McClaren in 2006, has a vast knowledge of European football and he'll make sure his side doesn't lose shape if the ball is going from side to side - how I see it Atletico need to go for the jugular or they risk getting caught cold on the break.

For this reason I can see a few goals flowing although I really can't see it being decided in the 90 minutes - my favourite bet would be the 11/2 about a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes.

As for who will be lifting the title my heart tells me Fulham's journey isn't quite complete yet and, at 7/5, they also have a big enough price to make backing them a potentially very profitable and enjoyable experience.



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