After sacking their coach, Fulham have a brilliant opportunity to beat managerless Hamburg

Fulham v Hamburg, Europa League semi-final second leg, April 29, 2010

Fulham 2.15; Draw 3.20; Hamburg 3.20

“We analysed the situation and we saw that as things were we would not be able to succeed against Fulham. It was the last moment for us to react to keep our Europa League target in sight.” Hamburg president Bernd Hoffmann after sacking coach Bruno Labbadia.

The build up to the biggest game in Fulham’s history has been dominated by Hamburg’s decision to sack coach Bruno Labbadia following the 5-1 mauling at the hands of Hoffenheim on Sunday. Clearly the fact that the final of the first ever Europa League will be at their home ground, the HSH Nordbank Arena, has forced the hand of a worried board following some poor recent displays.

Hamburg now travel to London with former assistant coach Ricardo Moniz in charge. Some Spurs fans will perhaps remember the Dutchman from his time at Tottenham when he was brought to the club by Martin Jol as a “skills coach.” Moniz has no managerial experience and he faces an extremely tough baptism of fire.

The decision to sack Labbadia has to go down as one of the craziest of the season, in terms of timing, but Hamburg won’t care if they secure a place in the final on May 12. Anyone who saw their defeat at the “Village Team” on Sunday can confirm that the players were no longer performing for Labbadia and this talented squad needed a kick up the proverbial backside.

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HSV have quality throughout the side. Jerome Boateng (brother of Kevin-Prince) is set for a big money summer move to Manchester City as one of the top young defenders in Europe. And Marcus Berg proved last summer at the Under-21 European Championships that he is a poacher supreme.

Arguably the greatest goal scorer in European football over the last 10 years will also turn out for Hamburg after Ruud van Nistelrooy was pronounced fit after recovering from a hip injury sustained in the first leg. Moniz is also expected to have veteran Brazilian Ze Roberto and Ivorian Guy Demel available after calf and knee injuries respectively. They will though be without talented playmaker Piotr Trochowski who picked up a late booking in the first game.

The main fitness doubt for Fulham surrounds talisman Bobby Zamora. The former Brighton, Spurs and West Ham hitman lasted just 52 minutes of the first leg and Roy Hodgson admitted after the defeat to Everton on Sunday that “I’m not confident Bobby will be ready for Thursday. I am hopeful, but that`s all – he`s having treatment and we will have to keep our fingers crossed.”

Hodgson made eight changes for the 2-1 defeat at Everton on Sunday and the performance from the understudies was hugely impressive with the Toffees fortunate to secure a late win thanks to a Mikel Arteta penalty. We can expect the same side that appeared in Germany, with Zamora to play even if only half fit due to the magnitude of the game for the Cottagers.

Following a season where they have seen off the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg in earlier rounds, there is heavy expectation surrounding this match. Mark Schwarzer made some crucial saves in the first leg and keeping it tight could be key, especially against what seems to be a mentally fragile side.

This is not something that can be leveled against Fulham who have knocked out the holders, one of the biggest clubs in European football and the German champions. Returning from Germany with a 0-0 draw after a 15 hour journey to the first leg was a fine achievement. They have shown impressive pluck and courage throughout the run and we can expect them to give it a real go on Thursday night.

Roy Hodgson has produced a miracle at Fulham, leading them from the “Great Escape” in 2007/2008 to the brink of a European final. The Cottagers are in a precarious position due to the away goals rule but with a frenzied crowd behind them and a well oiled team heading to its pinnacle, all signs point to another glory night by the Thames.

101gg predicts: Fulham 3 – Hamburg 1

Fulham 2.15; Draw 3.20; Hamburg 3.20

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