The Europa League Final: Can Roy's Band of Brothers Capture The Prize?

12 May 2010

The Final Challenge' is written on an official UEFA car in front of the HSH Nordbank Arena stadium in Hamburg, Germany. The UEFA Europa League final between Spanish side Atletico Madrid and English side FC Fulham will take place in Hamburg on 12 May 2010. (Credit Image: © EPA/ZUMApress.com)
On Wednesday, the first European continental trophy will be decided as Atletico Madrid, ninth in La Liga, take on Fulham, twelfth place finishers in the Premier League. For Atletico Madrid, this journey started in the fourth qualification round of the Champions League. Fulham, on the other hand, started their Europa League journey back in July. This will be Fulham's nineteenth game in this year's competition.

The longest running storyline of this entire competition has been how Fulham have exceeded expectations getting this far. At first, it would have been nice just to make it to the group stage. Then they were more than happy to make it to the round of thirty-two. Then when they were paired with Shakhtar Donetsk, they figured their journey was over. How wrong they were.

A 3-2 aggregrate win over the last UEFA Cup champions saw Juventus in the round of sixteen. There's no need reminding everyone again of what Clint Dempsey did on that European night at Craven Cottage. Victories over Wolfsburg and Hamburg later, Fulham returns to the place where they drew 0-0 in the semi-finals at.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid has been fortunate. I know this is not the time nor the place for this debate, but they should not be here. There is no excuse for UEFA allowing a third place team in the group stage of the Champions League to finish out their European adventure in the second tier of the competition. Sure, the television money says otherwise, but I don't care. It only further weakens this competition more and unjustly punishes those teams who have been in it from the start.

So what does Fulham have to do in order to win? It wouldn't hurt to see Bobby Zamora play from the start. Fulham's defense has to close down Diego Forlan, and Mark Schwarzer is going to have to come up big again. But above all, Fulham have to continue doing what they have done all season, believe in their manager and trust his set up.

Yes, I normally don't go into homer mode here, but I want Fulham to finish this journey. While I'm very fearful of another Sevilla/Middlesbrough final, Roy Hodgeson is more able than McClaren was to adjust and adapt to what Atletico Madrid can throw at them. Above all, Fulham have had the big matches and come through them in this competition this year. To them, this probably feels like just another day at the office. The only difference is this one is for all the marbles.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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