When I got up this morning I decided I wanted to write about the importance of this match for Fulham and there fans. My wife asked me this morning how many more of these matches are you going to have to watch on Thursday? I said to my wife " I am hopeful there will be one more on Wednesday May 12th". I don't like talking about the next step. I just wanted her to know there might be one more game.
She doesn't understand the importance of this upcoming game. This article is my way of explaining to her, and everyone else that is interested the significance of the Europa League for Fulham. I am now a crazy passionate fan of the Cottagers. Hopefully this article will put into perspective what this match means.
Fulham in 1997 were purchased by Mohamed Al - Fayed. His desire was to get Fulham into the Premier League. At the time Fulham were 2 levels below the Premiership. Fulham had to promote up 2 levels of English Football to get to the EPL. In the 2001 - 2002 Fulham earned promotion to the English Premier League. In my opinion, this is an incredible achievement in such a short period of time. They have been in the English Premier League ever since 2001.
More recently, in the 2007/2008 season Fulham had to battle relegation. They were near the bottom of the EPL when Roy Hogdson became Manager in late December of 2007. That season going into 2008, Fulham were just trying to survive and stay up in the EPL. Many experts at the time thought Fulham were going to be relegated. Fulham needed to win games on the road just to stay up. Fulham won there last 3 road games. The last game was at Portsmouth. With that victory at Fratton Park, Fulham had indeed defied the critics and stayed up in the Premier League. It came down to that last game on the road and Fulham actually did the impossible.
The very next season, Fulham by many experts were expected to be relegated. I guess you could say these "so called" experts were wrong. Fulham had an incredible season which had Fulham end the season 7th. They would qualify for the Europa League this year.
Now , Fulham would be playing a full EPL schedule plus the possibility of playing in the Europa League Group Stage. Fulham still had to go through the qualification stages first. There season began at the end of July with the qualification games of the Europa League. The qualifying round would begin with playing FK Vetra home and away. Vetra are a Lithuanian club. They would beat Vetra and move on.
The next round would see Fulham play Amkar Perm home and away. Amkar Perm are a Russian Club. Fulham were able to beat Amkar Perm 3 - 2 on aggregate.
Fulham again would move on in the Europa League and enter the Europa League Group Stage. They would need to be one of top 2 teams in their group. The teams they would be playing were Roma, Basel, and CSKA Sofia. They would be playing each club home and away. Fulham came in second in the Group Stage. They would move on to the round of 32.
In the round of 32 they would be playing Shakhtar Donetsk. They were the defending champions of this tournament which last year was known as the UEFA Cup. In my opinion, this club is the best team Fulham played this year. It would be a monumental victory to beat this club. Fulham beat Shakhtar Donetsk at home 2 - 1, but going into the second leg I was not feeling that confident. This team was excellent and Fulham were fortunate to be ahead. The second leg away was the greatest draw I have ever seen. Shakhtar were controlling the match, but it took a small opening for Fulham to take advantage of their opponent. They scored in the first half. Shakhtar would need to score twice just to force extra time. Shakhtar scored once and Fulham moved on to the round of 16.
This round Fulham would be playing Juventus. Could Fulham take down the Italian Giants? They lost in the first leg in Italy 3 - 1. They had a chance though, because they got an away goal. The second leg at Craven Cottage has to be one of the greatest games ever at Craven Cottage. Juventus scored early and looked very good to be moving on. However, Fulham would not give up. They incredibly scored 4 goals and won the match 4 - 1. The final goal by Clint Dempsey was arguably the greatest goal scored by an American in a European competition. Fulham moved on to the Quarterfinals by an aggregate of 5 - 4.
In the Quarterfinals, Fulham would be playing Wolfsburg. They were the current German Champions by winning the Bundesliga last year. Fulham won the first leg at Craven Cottage 2 - 1. The second leg in Germany, Bobby Zamora scored in the opening minute of the match. Fulham held on and won the match 1 - 0. They moved on to the Semifinals to play Hamburg.
The first leg in Germany was scoreless against Hamburg. This leads us to today's second leg and a chance for Fulham to get to the Finals. To get to a Finals of a major European Competition would be an incredible achievement.
Who knows the next time Fulham will be in this position again. Fulham are not like any of the big four who play in European Competitions each year. The last time Fulham were in a European Competition was in 2002. They played in this same competition then known as the UEFA Cup.
This is a special moment for Fulham and there fans. As I explained, Fulham have come a long way since 1997 to this match today. Whatever happens today we all need to take it in and enjoy it.