Gera books fairytale final spot for Fulham
(Fulham win 2-1 on agg )
FROM Vetra to the volcano, Fulham have overcome man and mountain this season in this most glorious and improbable of European adventures and -- of course -- they did it again last night.
A goal down, appearing spent, they turned around the deficit with two astonishing second-half strikes, in seven crazy minutes, to propel themselves into the final of the Europa League.
Just when the history men appeared to be history they did it. As ever their manager Roy Hodgson held his nerve amid the din and delirium, a magnificently impassive figure at time but one imbued with belief, a quality he transmitted to this players who were determined to succeed. And did just that.
Bobby Zamora was the talisman, the hope for Fulham. His goals and performances had driven Fulham on to this point and, within two minutes, he exchanged passes with Gera, carving an opening just inside the area only for goalkeeper Frank Rost to block. It was some chance.
Soon after and Brede Hangeland, twice, headed over from corners before Hamburg finally threatened with Mark Schwarzer, smartly, punching clear under pressure from the perennially-dangerous Mladen Petric.
However, it was when Danny Murphy caught the Brazilian Ze Roberto, that Hamburg took a precious, stunning lead. From fully 30 yards out Petric took a looping, left-footed free-kick that deceived Schwarzer.
Fulham were clearly dazed, but rallied with Davies driving a free-kick over and Zamora's header deflected wide. But Petric continued to prove to be the thorn and linked with Ruud van Nistelrooy to supply Jonathan Pitroipa who fired a low shot past the near post. It was knife-edge stuff.
It was also becoming frustrating with Zamora, despite his relentless effort, struggling to dominate the defender Jerome Boateng.
The interval was time to re-group. Soon after and Zamora, just, failed to reach Murphy's free-kick, but the struggle with Boateng continued as Hamburg retained control.
Zamora was withdrawn and soon after Boateng hacked down his replacement Clint Dempsey. The free-kick was sent in low by Paul Konchesky, met by Damien Duff but his shot squirmed across goal before, at the other end, Schwarzer palmed up David Jarolim lofted shot after yet more fine work by Petric.
Fulham needed something and they found it. Murphy sprayed the ball into the area, but it took the deftest of touches from Davies to control it with his right foot, outwitting his marker and then, seamlessly, stabbing the ball into the net with his left. Stunning. Suddenly it was game on.
Davies limped back, but Fulham were up and running again. One more goal. It came. Davies earned a corner, it was swung in and bounced across the goal, off Guy Demel as Hamburg desperately failed to clear, for Zoltan Gera to swivel and steer beyond Rost. It had been some turnaround.
Now it was Hamburg who were desperate. Fulham threw their bodies on the line with Pitroipa and Van Nistelrooy denied. The final, back in Germany, back in Hamburg, is theirs. (© Daily Telegraph, London)