Early Doors

Fulham’s fight for Euro justice

Early Doors

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So, it was a bad night for the Reds as their gaffe-strewn campaign took another major hit at the final hurdle before the big day, while the previously unfancied and unfashionable side marched on. There, that's the obligatory and slightly inaccurate leaders' debate reference out of the way.

In other news, Liverpool's hopes of Europa League glory were shattered by Diego Forlan's away goal in extra time, while Fulham came from behind to beat Hamburg and reach their first ever European final.

It's no less than either side deserve. For Fulham, it's the culmination of a nomadic 18-match run that has taken them to Lithuania, Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. It may sound like a series of bad decisions made with an InterRail ticket, but it shows they have certainly made the most of their reward for an excellent domestic campaign last term.

Whereas Liverpool's elimination is a victory against the absurd safety net that is entry to the competition for finishing third in their Champions League group. To paraphrase Lenny Leonard, it's like a lottery that rewards ineptitude.

Not that Atletico Madrid are any more worthy in that respect. They have booked their place in the final despite winning just two European matches since the Champions League group stage started. That's two wins in 16 games. It's the most inauspicious rise this side of Adrian Chiles's television career.

The only real stand-out moments of the Champions League group stage this season were the respective failures of Liverpool, Juve and Atletico, so it would be a shame for any of them to lift a trophy that they didn't put in the hard yards for.

Anyway, Europa League sides have it tough to begin with. One of the reasons that the old G-14 - the erstwhile cartel of Europe's historically great clubs, plus some others that happened to be rich at the time of its formation - were so keen for the competition's extended format was so that mid-level sides in their divisions would be bogged down with as many as 19 extra games that would impede their progress to the top of the domestic pyramid.

As Eurosport blogger Danny Murphy put it, every match in Fulham's recent Euro run has been another "biggest match in the club's history", and they have captured the imagination. Isn't that what cup football is all about?

If they can overcome a fourth Champions League drop-out in the final - following wins over Shakhtar, Juventus and Wolfsburg - they will do much to boost the standing and credibility of the tournament and really do it justice.

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Wayne Rooney has been announced as the Football Writers' Player of the Year, to go with the PFA award he won on Sunday.

The Manchester United striker won with a whopping 80 per cent of the vote, with Didier Drogba coming in a distant second.

The two will line up against each other just six days after the World Cup finishes for a "gladiatorial" (it says here) battle of skills in London.

The pair, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Steven Gerrard, will take part in the A3K event (short for Arena 3000 - is that not short enough?) at the O2 Arena.

ED doesn't know why it's happening, or who's paying for it, but after a solid month of action in South Africa, will either the players or the fans have any appetite for a glorified keepy-uppy session?

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'YOU WHAT?' OF THE DAY: Fulham's progress to the Europa League final has given relegated Burnley an unexpected shot at a European place. Should Roy Hodgson's side lift the trophy they would qualify as holders next season, meaning Burnley would be in pole position in the Fair Play League.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Someone said we needed four or five players. I would more or less agree with that. That is what we have to do" - Rafael Benitez finally twigs that Nabil El Zhar is not the man to bring on for extra time of a European semi-final.

FOREIGN VIEW: "On the grounds of the sporting nosedive, Bochum have parted company with Heiko Herrlich with immediate effect" - Relegation-threatened Bundesliga side Bochum followed Hamburg example by firing their coach only days ahead of their most important match of the season. Just look how well it worked out for Hamburg.

COMING UP: There's all the usual preview business as the Premier League enters the final straight. There's all the weekend's match facts and team news, blogs from Jim White and Paul Parker, and The Fantasist will chime in with Choose 'em or lose 'em.

This evening there's an exciting top of the table clash in Ligue 1 - follow live scoring of Auxerre v Marseille at 20:00, as well as all the action from such far-flung corners of the globe as Argentina, Russia and Ukraine. 

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