Fulham sweat over Zamora
Liverpool may not be the only team going into tonight's Europa League semi-finals without their talisman. Fulham will this lunchtime give a fitness test to Bobby Zamora, every bit as important to Roy Hodgson's team as Fernando Torres is to Rafael Benitez's.
Hodgson is not one for hyperbole, or singling individuals out, but yesterday he found himself unable to avoid emphasising the importance of Zamora to his side's chances.
Zamora has a long-standing Achilles tendon problem which forced him out of the goalless first leg against Hamburg last week, and Hodgson initially said: "Injuries are part and parcel of football, if Bobby can't play we know we have others who can keep our play going." Yet for all the attributes of Clint Dempsey and Erik Nevland, his potential replacements, neither have Zamora's combination of presence and mobility, nor his current confidence in front of goal, and Hodgson reluctantly admitted: "I can't say that it doesn't matter, that we've got plenty of others who can go in and it won't affect us, that'd be wrong."
Hodgson added it was the equivalent of Wayne Rooney not playing for Manchester United. As Danny Murphy, Fulham's captain said: "Even though we're a team, without Bobby we would not be in the semi-final."
Zamora, said Hodgson, may need an operation this summer to clear up his injury. Should Zamora be called up for England's World Cup squad, a far from fanciful prospect, any operation would be delayed. While Zamora was instrumental in the victories over Basle, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg which got Fulham this far, it is not a one-man team. Mark Schwarzer, Aaron Hughes, Damien Duff and Murphy are among other influential figures. As Murphy added: "There are no stars. Perhaps Bobby has become the star this season because of the goals he has scored, but if you ask people about Fulham they will say we will play as a team."
Tonight Fulham need only to win, or go through on penalties after another goalless draw to reach their first final since the FA Cup in 1975. For Murphy that would be more impressive than reaching the Uefa Cup final with Liverpool in 2001 (which Liverpool won). "This would be one of the greatest achievements of our history whereas at Liverpool they are talking about reaching the same final as a consolation. That puts it into perspective," he said.
Fulham, 40/1 outsiders at the start of the season, start as favourites tonight for the first time in the knock-out stages, not that Hodgson sees it that way. But while he spoke of his respect for the opposition, Hamburg, who host next month's final, are in some disarray. They have won twice in nine matches and sacked Bruno Labbadia, after Sunday's 5-1 defeat at Hoffenheim.
Ricardo Moniz has taken over as caretaker. This is the first time he has been responsible for picking a team but, while no one knows quite what to expect, Hodgson did not anticipate major changes, nor did he see the switch as beneficial to Fulham.
Fulham recall John Pantsil for the suspended Chris Baird. Hamburg are without Piotr Trochowski, who is banned, but will nevertheless hope to provide Ruud van Nistelrooy with better service than in the first leg.
If they don't Fulham will be heading back to Hamburg next month, this time by air, for a 19th and final Europa League tie -- 1975 and all that... (© Independent News Service)
Fulham v Hamburg,
Live, ITV4, Setanta Irl, 8.05