DAVID SMITH - Thursday, April 29, 2010
Clint Dempsey should get the start for Fulham on Thursday as they welcome Hamburg to Craven Cottage with a spot in the Europa League final on the line.
The Cottagers made the long trek over land to HSV's Nordbank Arena to steal a goalless draw in the first leg, and will be gunning for a win in front of their home crowd that would send them back to Hamburg for their first-ever European final.
The team showed remarkable defensive resilience for the full 90 minutes against Hamburg's veteran attack force of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ze Roberto and Paolo Guerrero in the face of adverse travel conditions to leave themselves on the verge of advancing.
A win in the Cottage, where they have yet to lose in European competition, will send them through outright, while another scoreless result at the end of 90 minutes will force extra time. A scored draw or win for Hamburg will send the Germans back to their home stadium for the May 12 final.
Roy Hodgson's squad faces a Hamburg team in complete disarray; their 5-1 loss during the weekend to Hoffenheim was the final straw for the organization's upper brass, leading to the immediate dismissal of head coach Bruno Labbadia, meaning interim coach Ricardo Moniz faces his first-ever game at the helm with everything on the line.
While facing no such drama with his own team, Hodgson does have minor staffing concerns heading into the game with a pair of key absences.
The likely absence of Bobby Zamora, Fulham's leading scorer in the competition, could put added importance on Dempsey's attacking prowess.
The American played most of the second half at forward during the first leg after the England World Cup hopeful left with an Achilles injury. While he returned to his accustomed place on the wing for the weekend's 2-1 loss to Everton, the ineligibility of Stefano Okaka for the competition could see him once again feature up front.
In addition to Zamora, defender Chris Baird is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Andrew Johnson is out with a season-ending knee injury and Nicky Shorey is also ineligible due being cup-tied with Aston Villa.
The Hamburgers will be without the suspended Piotr Trochowski, as well as a trio of injured players. Attacking midfielder Elijero Elia continues to be sidelined with an ankle injury, defender Marcell Jansen is out with a foot injury and striker Tunay Torun is out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury.
The winner of the semifinal will face either Atletico Madrid or Liverpool. The Spanish team currently hold a slim 1-0 advantage heading into Thursday's second leg at Anfield.