Fulham v Wolfsburg, Europa League quarter final first leg, April 1, 2010
After seeing off Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in the knock out rounds of the Europa League, Fulham (11.00 to win the Europa League) face the German champions and one of the finest attacking teams on the continent. The good news for the Cottagers is that Wolfsburg are not so hot defensively and if they can keep things tight at the back, this is not a German side built on solid defensive foundations.
Genius coach Felix Magath led Wolfsburg to an unlikely Bundesliga title last season in one of the fairytale stories of 2008/2009. Wolfsburgâ€™s success was founded on a brilliant strike force of Grafite, Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic. The Brazilian looks set to be a part of Dungaâ€™s World Cup squad whilst both Dzeko and playmaker Misimovic could be on their way in the summer following a disappointing season in the league for Wolfsburg.
Currently sitting in ninth Wolfsburg have been dogged by inconsistency as a small squad has struggled to cope with a heavy European campaign and the pressure of being champions. Armin Veh lasted as coach until January and Lorenz Gunther Kostner has overseen progress in the Europa League knockout rounds with wins over Villareal and Rubin Kazan. (Wolfsburg are 8.00 to win the Europa League.)
The big team news surrounding the tie is that Edin Dzeko is a doubt after injuring his knee in training on Monday. The Bosnia-Herzegovina striker is Wolfsburgâ€™s main man as he showed with a clinical late brace at Mainz on Saturday to secure a 2-0 win. Dzeko has already bagged over 20 goals this season and is also a main provider for many of Grafiteâ€™s goals as well. If Dzeko doesnâ€™t make it, former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins will relish his return to English soil.
Much like Danny Murphy for Fulham, Zvjezdan Misimovic is the player Roy Hodgsonâ€™s side will have to contain. The 27-year-old playmaker set a new record for assists in the Bundesliga last season and scored a terrific crucial away goal at Rubin Kazan in the last round.
Fulham should though be confident of scoring and not only after their heroics against Juventus in the last round. Wolfsburg have conceded 51 goals in the Bundesliga this season and only struggling Hannover have let in more. â€œDie Wolfeâ€ were also on the receiving end of a 5-1 home defeat just a few weeks ago by Hertha Berlin, comfortably the worst team in the league. (1.98 to be over 2.5 goals, 1.79 to be under.)
Despite their sensational victory over â€œThe Old Lady,â€ confidence may not be so high at the Cottage as they have lost all three games since the 4-1 home win over Juventus. Roy Hodgson rested a host of players for Saturdayâ€™s defeat at Hull and Danny Murphy and Damien Duff will return.
Bobby Zamora will also be hopeful of a starting place although he will have to overcome a stomach problem picked up in the FA Cup defeat at Spurs last week. The likes of Aaron Hughes, Dickson Etuhu and Jonathan Greening will also all be pushing for a starting place after they were rested at Hull.
There is a familiarity to Fulhamâ€™s side this season and the strong spine of Schwarzer, Hughes, Hangeland, Etuhu, Murphy and Zamora have been key to a wonderful run which has seen them progress further than ever in European competition. Zoltan Gera has though been at the forefront of their European campaign with the Hungarian claiming three goals in Fulhamâ€™s last four games in the Europa League.
With another high octane night at the Cottage to be expected, goals should be expected but Fulham will do well to put the tie out of sight with Dzeko, Misimovic and Grafite all able to change the course of the tie in a split second.
101gg predicts: Fulham 2 â€“ Wolfsburg 1 (8.06)