Sunday 22 April 2018

Zamora inspires incredible comebackas shell-shocked Old Lady exits the Cottage in tears

Fulham 4
Juventus 1

Jason Burt

HE had talked the talk and, last night, gloriously, he walked the walk. Bobby Zamora led Fulham to an exhilarating and improbable victory in the Europa League, trouncing and traumatising a shell-shocked Juventus. At Craven Cottage the Old Lady had an attack of the vapours.

Zamora had spoken of how he was going to give Fabio Cannavaro a hard time. It wasn't an empty threat. He did just that. Except the veteran Italian international then got himself sent off, a straight red card for bundling over Zoltan Gera with an hour to go. That lit the touch-paper on an already raucous response from Fulham.

At the final whistle, having over-hauled a deficit that, at one stage stood 4-1 in favour of the Italians after their first-leg 3-1 victory, and who were eventually reduced to nine men, with Jonathan Zebina's injury-time dismissal for kicking out at Damien Duff, the disbelieving Fulham players went on an exhausted lap of honour.

Alessandro Del Piero tried to escape but Simon Davies caught him to swap shirts -- and who could blame him?

This was, probably, surely, the greatest night in Fulham's history and everyone who was here, except for the shell-shocked Juve fans, will recall it time and time again.

They will recall the way in which Zamora, the much-maligned and, at times, lumbering striker out-muscled the canny Cannavaro -- using some of the defender's own dark arts to create space -- to chest down and volley past 39-year-old, third-choice goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti.

They will recall two goals from Zoltan Gera and they will recall, above all, the way in which Clint Dempsey shimmied along the edge of the penalty area to drift the most exquisite of right-foot chips up and over Chimenti and into the top corner of the net.

As the ball arced through the air, it was unerring. It was almost as if time stood still for the breathless Fulham supporters and how their team deserved such a brilliant goal to win a brilliant match and cap a brilliant performance.

They march on into the quarter-finals of this competition, with the draw later today, but it's almost immaterial. An adventure that started last July in Lithuania and appeared to have died last week in Turin goes on and on. Exhausted limbs are being dragged from match to match and this will be a season to remember.

Juventus may be a pale shadow of the side which once dominated Europe, twice winning the European Cup, but they are still studded with big names. This was a big scalp with Fulham having already knocked out the holders, Shakhtar Donetsk, and they did it without a dozen or so injured or suspended players.

None of the clubs left in the competition will want to play them such is the spirit, the organisation, the belief, instilled by manager Roy Hodgson whose reputation grows and grows. He was exuberant, disbelieving himself but when he looks back over what just happened he will know it was a match in which he out-coached Alberto Zaccheroni and his team out-played their much-vaunted opponents who simply had no answer, no response.

Juve had gone ahead after precisely 90 seconds with the kind of goal that crushes spirits. But not for Fulham. When Stephen Kelly and Brede Hangeland made a hash of clearing a routine cross, the ball broke to David Trezeguet and he swept it into the net. Silence. And then a response.

Zamora equalised, Davies hit a free-kick off the cross-bar, Dickson Etuhu's header hit the post but the relentless home side saw Zamora set up Gera to go ahead on the night.

Fulham sensed something special and soon after the re-start Duff's cross struck Diego's hand and Gera, calmly, side-footed home the penalty. Little wonder the Hungarian pointed to the heavens.

As improbable as it seemed at kick-off, extra-time loomed. But not so. Dempsey managed a wonderful intervention after Etuhu rolled the ball into his feet and the Juve defenders, suicidally, stood off. What a goal, what a tie, what a night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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