What a fantastic night!
And a night that every Fulham fan will remember for the rest of their lives, a night that will live long in our history and a night that sends us into the last eight of a European competition for the first time ever.
Do things come any better than this?
Arise Sir Roy Hodgson!
There were no major surprises in Roy Hodgson`s starting eleven for the return leg against Juventus. Brede Hangeland shook off a chest knock picked up at Old Trafford. Dickson Etuhu took the place of the suspended Danny Murphy and it looked set to be a cracking night with the atmosphere electric inside Craven Cottage.
Unfortunately, the visitors neglected to read the script and scored a crucial away goal in the very first exchanges. The goal came from David Trezeguet who netted after a cross from Salihamidzic wasn`t defended with any authority and with only 2 minutes completed. Almost instantly that electric atmosphere died and the only noise that rippled around Craven Cottage was coming from the visiting supporters.
Not surprising considering Fulham now needed three goals (without further reply) just to force extra time. Knowing they had to respond quick, Damien Duff produced a teasing cross towards the Simon Davies but it was just too high for the Welshman to reach. But respite wasn`t far away and it was to be that man Bobby Zamora who was to pull Fulham level on the night with 9 minutes played, only seven minutes after Juventus had appeared to end our dreams.
Zamora held off the challenge of Cannovaro before firing past Chimenti in the Juventus goal. The visitors, as the action swept down the other end, almost retook the lead immediately when Diego forced Mark Schwarzer into a save, thankfully Trezeguet couldn`t get to the rebound.
As Fulham continued to exert pressure Zoltan Gera met Stephen Kelly`s cross but Cannavaro denied Zamora ably assisted by wrapping his arms around the striker. Minutes later the same illegal tactics were used to nudge Hangeland and his header sailed over, instead of under, the bar. Finally the referee got wise to the dodgy tactics being employed by the Juventus defence and Cannavaro was shown a straight red card after the defender hauled down Gera after Zamora had slipped a good through ball into his path.
With a free kick awarded Zamora almost put Fulham ahead but the third choice Juventus keeper produced a stunning save to keep his curling free kick wide. Having lost a defender, Juventus took off a forward, in the form of Candreva, and bought on a defender, Grygera. With Fulham in the ascendancy Camoranesi had to produce a great tackle to deny Duff.
Fulham then rattled the woodwork twice in the space of ninety seconds. First Simon Davies hit the bar and then Dickson Etuhu rattled the post with a header. But respite for the Italians was only momentary when Fulham edged ahead on the night. The goal coming after a flick from Zamora sends Simon Davies away and his cross is turned in by Zoltan Gera on 39 minutes.
At this stage Juventus were under the cosh as the atmosphere inside Craven Cottage was cranked up yet more. Unfortunately, half time was just around the corner, could Fulham keep up the momentum in the second half?
Well the initial answer was yes. Only minutes into the half Fulham were awarded a penalty after Gera`s flick set Duff free and his cross hit the arm of Diego. Gera steppe dup to take the penalty and coolly scored, it was now 3-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate.
Juventus proved they were still dangerous when Diego and Trezeguet combined but there was no power behind the shot from the Frenchman and Schwarzer easily saved. Fulham thought they`d earned a second penalty when Gera was sandwiched but play was waved on and the chance disappeared when Duff fired over.
With an hour played it was still all square, on aggregate. Fulham, pushing for the winner, saw Chimenti pull off a good save from Davies before Zamora was just unable to get a touch on a cross from Duff. Hodgson, sensing the tie was there for the taking, brought on Clint Dempsey for Stephen Kelly with Baird switching to the back four.
With Fulham still dominating Gera curled a shot over the bar. Fifteen minutes left, could we do it? Dempsey met a cross, from Davies but his downward header was pushed away by the keeper. Gera then went close to bagging a hat trick but the keeper pushed his swerving shot around the post. And then it came and Craven Cottage went into orbit!
Dempsey, pushing forward, beat the keeper all ends up with an exquisite chip. Was I dreaming were my immediate thoughts? With five minutes to go Juventus brought on the legend that is Alessandro Del Piero whilst Hodgson bolstered the Fulham midfield by introducing Bjorn Helge Riise. But could we hang on?
With the clock ticking down, Zamora forced another good save out of the Juventus keeper, Chimenti. With the clock running down nerves were at a premium, stomachs were tingling and nails were being severely bitten. All that was eased slightly when Zabina became the second Italian to be sent off after kicking out at Duff. It was to be the last meaningful piece of action as Fulham, on one of the most memorable nights at Craven Cottage in our history saw us march on into the last eight of this fabulous competition.
And the site of the players doing a lap of honour and throwing their shirts into the crowd brought tears to my eyes!
Anyone fancy a celebration beer or ten?
Fulham 4 Juventus 1 (5-4 on aggregate)
What a fantastic night!