Fulham manager Roy Hodgson eyes Europa League glory
Europa League final: Atletico Madrid v Fulham Venue: HSH Nordbank Arena, Hamburg Date: Wednesday, 12 May 2010 Kick-off: 1945 BST Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, live on Channel Five and text commentary on BBC Sport website
Hodgson had suggested on Sunday that European football chiefs Uefa should postpone the match until it was clear both teams could fly to the venue.
However, with a 570-mile road trip avoided, Hodgson was in an altogether more relaxed mood about the fixture as he spoke to reporters before his team's training session at the Hamburg Arena.
"Whatever happens this has been a very good season," reflected Hodgson, who when he was in charge at Inter Milan saw his team lose on penalties to Schalke 04 in the two-legged final of the competition's former incarnation - the Uefa Cup - in 1997.
"This is a greater occasion [than in 1997] because it's a one-off final. Playing the final at home and away wasn't the same.
"Of course, my memories of that final are very vivid. If you lose on penalties in front of your own crowd the memory will stay with you - and it won't be a happy one.
"I'm proud of reaching that final but I hope Inter Milan will forgive me for saying that I'm even prouder of this."
Murphy ready to make Fulham history
Hodgson's carefully crafted team of budget signings (Zoltan Gera, a free transfer from West Brom), obscure European finds (Brede Hangeland from FC Copenhagen) and rejuvenated 'Big Four' cast-offs (Danny Murphy, ex-Liverpool, and former Chelsea winger Damien Duff) have negotiated 14 games on their way to their maiden European final.
Former Anfield playmaker Murphy played all 117 minutes of Liverpool's 5-4 Uefa Cup final win over another Spanish side, Deportivo Alaves, in Dortmund in 2001.
And Fulham captain Murphy, who only two seasons ago scored a goal at Portsmouth to keep the then struggling west Londoners in the Premier League, sensed his team were ready to seize a historic moment.
"It's been a fantastic couple of years for both the club and myself and to captain the team during one of its most successful times has been a very proud spell of my career," said the former England midfielder.
"This final will be the highlight of that - sorry, getting ahead of myself there!"
And Murphy hopes his team will be inspired by the support of the whole nation when they take on Atletico.
"This is probably the first time the whole of England want an English club to win in Europe," he added.
Fulham players look forward to Europa final
"There may be a few Chelsea fans who disagree but the support we've received - phone calls and meeting people in the street - has been amazing. Fulham are everybody's second favourite club at the moment.
"Maybe that's because of our spirit and our unusual position this season in that we've overcome the odds and beaten so many good teams.
"I think supporters appreciate good football and, over the course of the competition, we've certainly tried to play the right way.
"It's nice to have that encouragement because it gives you the extra incentive to take the trophy home. We've been surprised and overwhelmed with all the support we've had."
Favourites Atletico opted to travel to Hamburg a day early on Monday in order to avoid any possible travel disruptions.
And their logistical caution was mirrored in coach Quique Sanchez Flores' pre-match thoughts.
"Fulham have excellent players," said Flores, who has also guided his side to a Spanish Cup final against Sevilla since taking over from Abel Resino, who departed in the wake of the club's 4-0 Champions League drubbing at Chelsea last October.
"The physical aspect and strategy come together. We have to take some risk but not open ourselves to dead-ball situations.
Flores's team lie ninth in La Liga
"There are many reasons to be optimistic but we have to be careful. And we need to be courageous."
Two players Flores no doubt hopes do not feature on Wednesday are Fulham striker Bobby Zamora, who faces a race against time to overcome an Achilles tendon problem, and winger Duff, who is recovering from a leg injury.
Zamora, who has scored eight times during Fulham's European odyssey, which began on 30 July against Lithuania side FK Vetra, has not played since the 2-1 semi-final, second leg win over Hamburg on April 29 at Craven Cottage, when Duff was also hurt.
But Hodgson's latest report on the pair was upbeat and he added: "Both players trained on Monday and that was very, very positive.
"I've been given no indication that they're suffering from a reaction so my hope is that they'll be available."
Uruguay international Diego Forlan and Argentina star Sergio Aguero are likely to spearhead Atletico's attacking threat.
Forlan scored a goal in both legs of his side's semi-final - the second an extra-time away goal - to end Liverpool's hopes of reaching the final.
But the former Manchester United player preferred to envisage lifting the trophy than reproducing his scoring heroics.
"I am part of a team and the designated forward, so it is my job to score goals," stated Forlan, who also knocked out Galatasaray with an extra-time strike in Istanbul at the last-32 stage.
"The most important thing is that we perform well and win - it doesn't matter who scores. Getting a goal is always beautiful and something I enjoy - getting two against Liverpool was wonderful and not just because I played for Manchester United. But now all I want is to win the trophy."
Atletico, whose last top-flight trophy came in 1996 when they won La Liga to complete a league and cup double, made a poor start to the season but skipper Antonio Lopez says his team are ready to complete an impressive turnaround by winning in Hamburg.
"We have always been a very united team. A few months ago we had some difficulties and the results were not the best," he said. "But we went through the stages progressively and here we are in the final.
"And it's because we were united that we were able to make it this far. We owe it to our fans.
"I have always tried to imagine what it would be like, lifting the cup. As captain I bear a lot of responsibility but it's not just the captain lifting the cup, it's the whole team and all the families, that have helped us."
Italian Nicola Rizzoli, 39, will be the referee for the final. He took charge of the quarter-final return leg between Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
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