Roy's boys show enormous potential in crushing final loss.In the end, it just proved to be one step too far for Fulham. Roy Hodgson’s side exceeded all expectations to reach the Europa League final at the Nordbank Arena in Hamburg and, as was stated time and time again, whatever happened against Atletico Madrid, the English manager’s side could hold their heads high with their hearts filled with pride.
That of course will not make the bitter pill of defeat at the final hurdle any easier to swallow. Captain Danny Murphy’s disconsolate face as he collected his runners-up medal from Michel Platini said it all; after coming so far, the Whites' hopes were dashed in the cruelest of fashions as Diego Forlan’s flick of the boot proved just enough to deceive Brede Hangeland.
Hodgson could ask no more of his charges after 120 minutes of fully committed effort. To take Atletico Madrid to extra time, with all their quality in attack in Forlan and Sergio Aguero, is no mean feat, especially considering the problems faced by the squad going into their most important game of the season.
Bobby Zamora, the talisman for so much of the season, was playing with an achilles injury that ultimately may have been the reason for him missing out on a place in the provisional England World Cup squad. Damien Duff, similarly so important to his side, was suffering from a knock, and the central midfield pairing of Dickson Etuhu and Murphy, for all their resilience, found the 63rd game of Fulham’s season one too many as they labored towards the final whistle.
It will hurt tonight, and probably for some time to come, but once the pain of this defeat becomes diluted in pre-season preparations, Hodgson and co will realize they have an impressive platform on which to build a team that could sustain a European challenge in years to come.
After all, the personnel on show, which featured a host of players stretched to their physical limitations over the course of the season, progressed from a group featuring FC Basel and Roma, before toppling UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus, German pair VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburg and a volcanic ash cloud en route to the final.
Shattered | Paul Konchesky accepts defeat
The achievement of reaching the final and coming so close to winning a first major trophy will undoubtedly boost the profile of the club. Now Fulham have the opportunity to develop a squad capable of playing in Europe year after year, and Hodgson is the right man to bring the right players to Craven Cottage.
The much-loved manager must recruit a prolific striker after the departures of Erik Nevland and Stefano Okaka Chuka; one that demands the price tag of injury-prone hitman Andy Johnson but delivers in a way that justifies the money spent. Some steel in the midfield, as shown by the tired legs of Etuhu and Murphy, is also required.
If Fulham can do that, there’s no reason why the club should not dream of another night like the one in Hamburg soon.
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