Fulham 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
Gera 3, Zamora 63; Luiz Adriano 32
It was something of a miracle that Fulham were playing in this match at all. Less than two years before we had looked doomed to relegation before Roy Hodgson fashioned the great escape. He then worked his magic by transforming the side and leading us into Europe with a 7th place finish the next season. It meant an early start to this campaign in the qualifying rounds of the newly rebranded Europa League. We then came within a fraction of an early exit, when but for a near miss in the last minute Amkar Perm would have beaten us on away goals in the last qualifying match. Even then the Group Stage saw us struggle as we went into the last game needing to win away in Basel to progress. A famous 3-2 victory ensued and when we followed this by thrashing Manchester United 3-0 to sit comfortably mid-table it left us looking forward to the knock out stages with relish.
However, we couldn’t have drawn tougher opponents than the reigning UEFA Cup holders from Ukraine. Shakhtar had been building a big European reputation under wily coach Mircea Lucescu and were not only favourites to knock us out but also to retain the trophy. Our major hope was that they’d have a little ring rust as they emerged from their mid-season winter break.
Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Stephen Kelly, Simon Davies, Dickson Etuhu, Danny Murphy, Damien Duff, Zoltan Gera (David Elm 89), Bobby Zamora.
Substitutes: Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Marsh-Brown, Riise, Greening, Nevland, Elm
With Paul Konchesky and Erik Nevland still banned after receiving red cards in the group game in Rome, not to mention Clint Dempsey and John Pantsil injured the depth of our squad was really being tested. Chris Bairdinho was now remodelled as a virtuoso midfielder but for this game reverted to right back with Stephen Kelly switching to the left. Meanwhile further forward Zoltan Gera was playing as a foil to Bobby Zamora, a nascent partnership that ultimately was to prove so effective.
Pyatov, Hubschmann (Kravchenko 78), Ilsinho, Kucher, Rakytskyy, Rat, Srna, Fernandinho, Jadson (Douglas Costa 75), Willian, Luiz Adriano.
Substitutes: Khudzamov, Lewandowski, Ischenko, Gai, Douglas Costa, Kravchenko, Gladkyy.
Shakhtar’s mainstay was Croatian International Darijo Srna with a smattering of Brazilian stars including future Premier League stars Fernandinho and Willian.
Fulham 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
England hopeful Bobby Zamora scored a screamer to give Fulham the advantage in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 tie against Shakhtar Donetsk. Zamora, who has been tipped to win a place in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad, hammered home a glorious shot from 25 yards to earn Fulham victory. The Cottagers had gone ahead early on when Zoltan Gera’s low shot crept in. Shakhtar dominated for long spells and Luiz Adriano’s cool finish levelled it, before Zamora’s moment of inspiration.
Fulham can perhaps count themselves fortunate to take a lead to Ukraine for the second leg on Thursday 25 February, but despite being outplayed at times they hung on and dug in with a spirited performance. Shakhtar produced some sparkling football as they showed the quality that helped them win the tournament last season, but they failed to capitalise on their ascendancy and now face a fight to cling on to their trophy. For Fulham and their fans, it was the perfect start as the Cottagers raced out of the blocks to stun Shakhtar and take an early lead.
They could have gone in front inside 15 seconds when Brede Hangeland’s header was superbly tipped over by Andriy Pyatov, but the Cottagers only had to wait two more minutes to nudge ahead. Danny Murphy split two defenders with a pass to the edge of the box to Zamora and after his cute lay-off, Gera lashed under the body of Pyatov from an angle on the left. It was a fabulous opening salvo in the tie and the Fulham fans threatened to raise the roof at Craven Cottage, but their joy was soon tempered as Shakhtar gained a foothold in the game.
With Brazilians Ilsinho and Rodrigues Jadson at the creative hub, they began to pass the ball with stunning speed and efficiency, enjoying the zip they could get from the wet surface as they made Fulham chase shadows. It became a lesson in ball retention and as they threatened to pass Fulham into submission, the chances soon began to flow – Jadson from 15 yards and then the adventurous full-back Darijo Srna down the right from 25 yards both firing narrowly wide. Such was their dominance it felt like only a matter of time before they equalised and shortly after the half-hour mark, two of the Brazilians combined to haul the holders level. Ilsinho slipped a lovely pass forward and Adriano’s run was good enough to enable him to slip past Aaron Hughes, round Mark Schwarzer, and slot into the empty net.
Fulham were going long spells without even touching the ball but they made it to half-time level and, perhaps buoyed by the fact that they were still in the tie, began the second half on a more equal footing with their Ukraine opponents. Shakhtar continued to have more of the ball but Fulham were at least offering a threat – and with 63 minutes on the clock they once again took the lead, this time in breathtaking fashion.
Luiz Adriano slots home Shakhtar’s equaliser before the break Gera flicked a forward pass through his legs to Zamora 25 yards out and the big striker let the ball run on before hammering a magnificent, swerving right-foot drive that crashed in off the crossbar. Suddenly Shakhtar, who had not played a competitive game since 16th December because of the Ukraine league’s winter break, started to look tired and Gera had a header saved by Pyatov before Zamora nodded wide unmarked from eight yards. Shakhtar sent on Douglas Costa and he twice went close before Schwarzer pulled off a fine fingertip save to deny Fernandinho in stoppage time to preserve for Fulham the slenderest of advantages going into the second leg.
Roy Hodgson: “Shakhtar were exceptional in the first half and maybe we got a bit scared in that situation and weren’t prepared to get on the ball as much as we normally do.
“But we pulled ourselves together in the second half. We don’t come up against sides like this week in, week out and we had to really dig deep to get there.”
Danny Murphy: “I thought we started brightly and got the goal but we got a bit nervy after that. They settled down and passed the ball well and got a deserved equaliser.
“We got to grips with them a bit better in the second half and pushed them into a few errors. It was a great goal from Bobby which took the pressure off us defensively. We’ve got something to fight for now; it will be a great game over there.”
Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu: “A lack of practice coming into the game saw us concede the first goal. After that, we had the game under control.
“There were a lot of chances which we could have scored from but we couldn’t always get the breakthrough.
“We will have to realise our potential in the second leg and win the game, but this will be very hard to do as Fulham are very well organised.”
At half time in this tie, I turned to my mate and said Shakhtar were the best side I’d ever seen and I couldn’t believe how we were still level. Whatever Sir Roy said at half time worked marvels though and Bobby Zamora’s thunderbolt gave us a slender lead to protect in Ukraine. There followed an amazing rearguard action out there to get the fairy tale really started. Juventus and Hamburg ( with Wolfsburg sandwiched in between) then provided never to be forgotten nights at the Cottage which culminated in us reaching a European final, a mere two years after being seemingly doomed to Championship football. It was a surreal experience and although we narrowly lost the final to star-studded Atletico Madrid it’s a night I’ll always look back on with pride.
Shakhtar went on to win the Ukrainian title that season and along with Dinamo Kiev dominate football in their country. They have remained regulars in European competition but after the conflict broke out in the country they’ve been forced to play in cities far away from Donetsk. The uncertainty has meant they can’t recruit talent so easily which has tempered their ability to compete with Europe’s finest as they look set to do around the time we played them.