Fulham can go distance in Europe
THE Europa League's antecedents are commercial -- the competition was originally the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, open to clubs from cities which hosted trade fairs -- so it is a perhaps appropriate that Fulham's next match in their European odyssey could be a works XI fixture: Harrods v Volkswagen.
While the shopping emporium merely shares the same owner as Fulham, VfL Wolfsburg -- their quarter-final opponents -- are wholly owned by the car giant and were originally its works' team. They are now the German champions and their pairing was an anticlimactic reward for the dramatic dispatch of Juventus.
Liverpool were given a tricky tie against Benfica, who knocked them out of the Champions League, winning home and away, when Rafael Benitez's side were holders in 2005.
While Liverpool supporters will enjoy a break in Lisbon, Fulham fans will be less enthralled by a trip to the industrial central German city, which was created to house Volkswagen workers in the 1930s.
For Roy Hodgson and his players, the tie offers beatable opposition, with Wolfsburg's form less impressive this season following the exits of the coach Felix Magath and playmaker Diego.
Should Fulham defeat Wolfsburg they will meet Hamburg, whose ground hosts the May final, or Standard Liege of Belgium.
Liverpool have a more daunting path. Should they overcome Benfica they will play Spanish opposition, Valencia, Benitez's former club, or Atletico Madrid, from whom they bought Fernando Torres.
Benfica, currently three points clear in Portugal, thrashed an injury-hit Everton 5-0 earlier in the competition, with Argentina's Angel De Maria to the fore. They also include Pablo Aimar, whom Benitez managed at Valencia. (© Independent News Service)
EUROPA LEAGUE QUARTER-FINAL DRAW -- Fulham v Wolfsburg, Hamburg v Standard Liege, Valencia v Atletico Madrid, Benfica v Liverpool.
SEMI-FINAL DRAW -- Valencia/Atletico Madrid v Benfica/Liverpool, Hamburg/Standard Liege v Fulham/Wolfsburg.