Archive for April, 2010

Breaking News: BBC Still Hate Zamora

April 24, 2010

I hope Bobby Zamora gets a run out in the upcoming international matchesfriendly matches. However, the BBC’s crack team of footballing pundits are not so keen.

There are many reasons as to why Zamora will not be on the plane to South Africa, but Alan Hansen’s “He’s not good enough” comment is certainly not one of them.

Here is to hoping that Zamora answers his critics on Thursday night against Hamburg!

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Hamburg 0-0 Fulham: A Tale of Two Defences

April 23, 2010

It just seems that this team is built for 2-legged European ties. Our away form in the premier league often comes under scrutiny and criticism (and rightly so) but under the bright lights of European competition it is the perfect remedy. Fulham may not play sparkling football away from home but it sure is effective. Only one European away performance can be described as poor during this campaign  and that was the 3-1 loss to Juventus.  Other than that night in Turin (which of course was gloriously rectified a week later) Fulham have been more than solid away from home. An initial draw against CSKA Sofia  with almost a complete second team, being robbed in Rome by poor officiating and a fantastic away victory in Basel rounded out a good away showing in the group stages.  A phenomenal defensive performance at Shakthar, a victory against German champs Wolfsburg and now a good scoreless draw at Hamburg added to the feeling of improved away performances. Why is it so different from the premier league? I guess that when we have a game plan (Must win or Must Draw) we are good at sticking to it. And of course Roy Hodgson is a God of European football.

As for the match last night. Not a huge amount to discuss other than to pile admiration onto the likes of Schwarzer, Gera et al. An early Baird mistake meant that hearts were in mouths as Ruud Van Nistelrooy bore down on goal, only for his composure to weaken and Schwarzer to collect the ball at his feet. Other than that chance, the first half passed everyone by with Hamburg restricted to long range shots that rarely tested Schwarzer.  Jonathan Pitroipa looked dangerous but had little end product, and other than the worryingly poor passing from Fulham there was not much of note.

As the second half started it was noticeable that  Zamora was struggling, an Achilles injury acting up and with him unable to make his usual powerful runs Fulham were unable to find an out ball. Hodgson dragged off the limping Zamora and brought on Fulham hero Clint Dempsey. Surprisingly this made Fulham much more dangerous in attack with Dempsey’s clever runs irritating the Hamburg defence Fulham started to look the better team. I noticed that now that Zamora had come off, Davies was spending a lot more time in a really central position with Konchesky making more probing runs down the left. Perhaps it wasn’t the 4-6-0 formation that many are predicting will be the future of football, but with 6 midfielders on the pitch for Fulham, you cannot get much closer to it than that.

HSV, to their credit, came back at Fulham and a couple of testing long range drives were dealt with magnificently by Schwarzer. Petric had come on by this stage but although he brought more of a goal threat to the HSV team I felt that they lacked something  without Guerrero ‘in the hole’. As the game drew to a close, Fulham looked to be comfortably seeing out an excellent draw. With the Fulham support in good voice, the final whistle blew and Fulham are one step closer to a European final. Wow.

p.s. A quick word for the Ref, who I thought was outstanding. He hilariously told players of both sides to stand up when the were tackled and kept the game flowing. All of the yellows were warranted. It is a pity he won’t be refereeing the return leg.

Fulham 2-1 Wolfsburg

April 2, 2010

What a game football is. A few weeks ago against Shakhtar Donetsk, the final whistle at the cottage was greeted with a huge roar of appreciation and people bouncing around in near delirium, but last night, despite the exact same result almost the opposite was true. I am complicit in this as anyone else,  as a late Alexander Madlung goal deflated the crowd and took the shine of what was another night of enthralling European football at the cottage. Yet this was still a good result and leaves Fulham with an excellent chance of heading through to the semi-finals.

Fulham have already been nearly written off by both the BBC and The Guardian:

Fulham’s late lapse could cost them dearly, but Wolfsburg were rewarded for their persistence in the final 10 minutes and will now be confident that they can progress to the semi-finals.

and

Possibly. But the feeling lingers that in Lower Saxony, in front of their own crowd, Wolfsburg might just bring to a close Fulham’s remarkable run in this competition, which began last July.

We have been here before havent we? After the Shakhtar game, many were questioning how Fulham would hold up away from home, and look where we are now! I am remaining optimistic about the return leg in Wolfsburg for several reasons:

1) We actually won last night meaning that Wolfsburg have to score. Now they have scored the most goals in the Bundesliga, but looked fairly average last night. I thought Dzeko looked dangerous, and they will probably score, but the emphasis is on them to create, something they struggled to do against a solid Fulham defence last night.

2) Basle, Shakhtar, Juventus. All teams with excellent home records, all teams we scored against away from home. It is not like Fulham have never scored away from home in the Europa league.

3) Wolfsburg have an average/iffy defence that Zamora was really testing last night. Wolfsburg have also conceded the second highest number of goals in the Bundesliga. I can see us getting a goal there.

As for the game itself, I would call it interesting rather than a classic. The first half was scrappy and Wolfsburg seemed content to sit back and try not to concede. A few half chances were created for both sides with the most notable coming at the end of the first half. Duff cut inside running full pace toward the Putney end, evaded two defenders before laying the ball off to Dempsey who hit the ball just wide.

As the second half began, Fulham looked the more dangerous team. Things started to gel and the crowd was lifted as Fulham began to commit men forward. The goals, when the came, were a huge relief. Both goals were counter-attack style moves that caught the Wolfsburg defence in flux and gives me hope that a similar goal c0uld be pilfered in a weeks time. The ball was won in midfield by Gera who hit a nice long pass for Zamora which he  controlled  well. A gut-busting run down then right by Duff then pulled the Wolfsburg defence further out of shape and allowed Zamora the time and space to place the ball in the back of the net from 20yds with an excellent curling finish that left Benaglio, the Wolfsburg keeper, flailing. The Cottage erupted and then relief was palpable.

And the first goal was quickly followed by a second. Again the ball was won in the midfield with Wolfsburg committing men forward, and Murphy found Zamora. Spotting Duff sprinting into the box, Zamora then laid the ball off for Duff to slam home with a unstoppable shot. Amazing. No-one was expecting this! Wolfsburgs response was to get forward and pressurize Fulham as they searched for the elusive away goal. Unfortunately it eventually came as the clock wound down. A Wolfsburg corner was taken short, catching Fulham unawares. Misimovic then had all the time in the world to pick out Madlung who powered a header into the back of the net. Damn. When the final whistle blew, there was a sense of disappointment around the stadium. At least the return leg will be interesting I suppose!