Fulham 2 Wolfsburg 1
Fulham moved one step closer to a fairytale Europa League semi-final after they recorded a 2-1 win over German champions Wolfsburg at Craven Cottage.
A late goal from Alexander Madlung tainted the night for Roy Hodgson’s side, who had taken the lead thanks to two second half goals from Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff.
Zamora’s 18th of the season was followed by a controversial cupped-ear celebration aimed at the home fans before the striker played in Duff for Fulham’s second.
The Cottagers looked set for a two goal victory margin before Madlung rose to beat Mark Schwarzer just before the death to leave the tie finely poised going into next week’s second leg in Germany.
Zamora had been a doubt after being sent home from training with a cold yesterday but he made a Fulham starting XI that included six changes from Saturday’s defeat at Hull.
Duff, Danny Murphy, Aaron Hughes, Dickson Etuhu and Clint Dempsey also came in for the Cottagers.
Highly-rated striker Edin Dzeko overcome a knee injury to start for the Bundesliga champions, who beat Rubin Kazan to make the last eight.
The near capacity crowd welcomed the Fulham players onto the pitch with a roar, no doubt hoping their side could pull off a repeat of the epic 4-1 win over Juventus, which sealed their passage through to the quarter-finals.
Fulham had lost all three matches since that night two weeks ago and Hodgson admitted the Cottagers faced their toughest game of their European campaign against a prolific Wolfsburg side who have scored 52 times in 28 Bundesliga games so far this season.
The Germans controlled possession and had Fulham on the back foot at the start, forcing an early corner.
Simon Davies, playing out of position at right-back, hit back for Fulham as he drifted a clever ball over the top of the Wolfsburg defence but goalkeeper Diego Benaglio rushed out to beat Zamora to the ball.
The first 15 minutes otherwise proved to be a dry affair with both sides wasteful of possession in the final third.
Grafite nutmegged Etuhu to play in Christian Gentner who hit a low drive towards goal that was well saved by Schwarzer 20 minutes in.
Zoltan Gera had Fulham’s first effort on target shortly after but his low 30-yard shot was easily saved by Benaglio.
Murphy, who had missed both legs of the previous round through suspension, then combined with Zamora but the midfielder’s searching ball into the box was well cut out by a Wolfsburg defender.
Dempsey cut inside to fire at goal on the half hour but the Wolfsburg stopper was equal to the test.
Benaglio then spilled a low shot from Zamora as Fulham stepped up their hunt for an opener.
Referee Damir Skomina then booked Zamora for needlessly barging over Marcel Schafer inside the Fulham half.
Duff’s corner found Etuhu inside the box just before half-time but the midfielder headed narrowly wide.
Duff then raced towards the Wolfsburg goal and beat three defenders before laying the ball off to Dempsey but Fulham’s match-winner against Juve could not hit the target.
Wolfsburg came out the blocks much quicker than the home side after the break.
Dzeko, who was linked with Manchester United and AC Milan last summer, used his strength to shrug off Etuhu but the striker fired wide from inside the box.
The Bosnian should have put Wolfsburg ahead soon after but he failed to hit the target from six yards after an uncharacteristic error from Brede Hangeland.
Grafite shot tamely at Schwarzer after beating the offside trap, much to the annoyance of the vocal Wolfsburg fans near Schwarzer’s goal.
Zamora then struck for the 18th time this season to put the home side ahead with a superb curling effort.
The former Spurs hitman took advantage of the space given to him by Schafer to place a precise left-footed curler past Benaglio.
Zamora, who has been at odds with the Fulham fans on more than one occasion this season, chose to celebrate in a controversial fashion by cupping his ear with his hand towards the home fans.
Duff then doubled Fulham’s lead four minutes later after picking up the ball off Zamora in the box to coolly slot past Benaglio.
Dempsey surged forward as Fulham looked for a third against the shell-shocked Germans.
The home fans sensed a goal and they thought they should have had a penalty when Duff went down under pressure from Schafer in the Wolfsburg box.
Murphy’s stray pass inadvertently played in Grafite with 10 minutes to go but he was forced to shoot wide thanks to pressure from Hughes.
Wolfsburg stepped up their search for an away goal and Grafite then caused Schwarzer to pull off a fine diving save to his left after he was given space on the edge of the box.
Hodgson looked to shore up his side’s defences by introducing Chris Baird for Murphy, who came off to a standing ovation from the home fans.
The move failed to stifle the Germans’ attack and Wolfsburg put themselves well and truly back in the tie when Madlung rose to beat Schwarzer from a Zvjezdan Misimovic cross near the end.