after extra time
PROUD boss Roy Hodgson paid tribute to his Fulham bravehearts after Diego Forlan sent them spinning to a cruel defeat in the Europa League final.
Forlan, the former Manchester United striker, capitalised on a nervous Fulham start to give the Spanish side the lead before Hodgson’s men equalised through Simon Davies five minutes later.
But with just four minutes left and the tie heading for penalties, the Uruguayan touched home the winner to break the Cottagers’ hearts.
It ended Fulham’s marathon 18-game run to reach the Hamburg final, but although his side were denied a first-ever European success, Hodgson couldn’t be more proud.
“We have to give them real credit but I thought we played well,” he said. “It looked for all the world to be heading for penalties which is a bit of a lottery but we would have been happy to take that lottery.
“I thought we looked comfortable for long periods of the second half and extra time.
“All through the season they have performed against the odds and pulled out performances.
“You can’t be happy after any sort of defeat, even after extra time, but I don’t have a word of criticism for the team.”
Veteran Hodgson has coached several top sides in his 34 years in management, including Inter Milan and both the Finnish and Swiss national sides. But the 62-year-old insists this Fulham side is well up there with the best in terms of spirit
“They are certainly best in terms of attitude, desire, organisation and commitment,” he said. “They have every reason to be very proud of the season and tonight even if they are not lifting the trophy.”
Atletico started the tie as clear favourites, and showed why early on as Forlan and strike partner Sergio Aguero looked threats early on.
Indeed, it was no surprise when the Spanish side took the lead on 32 minutes when Aguero’s miscued shot fell straight to the feet of Forlan, who just beat the offside trap to stab home.
Many would have buckled from there, but not Fulham. Indicative of previous performances in the competition, they hit straight back – Zoltan Gera’s chipped centre from the right taking a deflection to Davies, who volleyed home at the far post.
Davies tested keeper David De Gea with a decent strike after the break but Fulham seemed to tire as the match wore on and Atletico regained control. Keeper Mark Schwarzer did well to keep out Forlan again while Aguero failed to connect with the rebound.
But just when it looked as though the Premier League side had held on for penalties, Aguero got the better of Chris Baird and his cross was touched home by Forlan to end Fulham’s magnificent European journey.