Fulham secure unlikeliest of comebacks

Fulham 4 Juventus 1 (Agg: 5-4)

Fulham 4 Juventus 1 (Agg: 5-4)

Clint Dempsey wrote himself into Fulham folklore by firing the Cottagers into the last eight of the Europa League with a 4-1 win over nine-man Juventus at Craven Cottage.

Dempsey drifted a sublime chip past keeper Antonio Chimenti to seal a historic 5-4 aggregate win for the Cottagers.

Bobby Zamora cancelled out David Trezeguet’s opener before Fulham surged into a 3-1 lead on the night thanks to two goals from Zoltan Gera.

Juventus had been reduced to 10 after Fabio Cannavaro was sent off in the first half and their fate was sealed in the 82nd minute thanks to Dempsey’s winner.

Juve’s misery was completed by the sending-off of Jonathan Zebina in injury time.

Brede Hangeland passed a fitness test to line up at the heart of Fulham’s defence as they looked to overturn a 3-1 deficit from the first leg.

The Norway defender had been struggling with a chest injury but made the Cottagers’ starting XI along with Zoltan Gera, Damien Duff and Dickson Etuhu as Roy Hodgson’s side looked to progress to the last eight of the competition for the first time.

Third-choice Chimenti, 39, started in goal for Juventus but there was no place for Alessandro del Piero in Alberto Zaccheroni’s team.

Any hopes of the Cottagers gaining a foothold in the match looked slim when David Trezeguet gave Juve the lead in the second minute.

Hasan Salihamidzic’s curling cross found Diego, who shrugged off Stephen Kelly and Hangeland to lay the ball off to the France striker, who neatly beat Mark Schwarzer.

The visitors’ lead lasted just seven minutes, though, thanks to Zamora’s 16th of the season.

The former Spurs striker vowed yesterday that he could get the better of Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro and he did just that by overpowering the World Cup winner to chest down Paul Konchesky’s cross before beating Chimenti with a volley.

Fulham began to take control and Cannavaro had to be quick to beat Zamora to the ball inside the six-yard box 17 minutes in.

The game was being played at an intense pace and took a dramatic twist in the 27th minute when Cannavaro was sent off for colliding with Gera after the Hungarian was played through by Zamora.

It was a decision that incensed the Juve team and caused Zaccheroni to replace forward Antonio Candreva with Zdenek Grygera.

Veteran keeper Chimenti showed no sign of his age from Zamora’s resulting free-kick as he pulled off a flying one-handed save to deny the 29-year-old.

The Cottagers then hit the woodwork twice within a minute as they piled on the pressure.

First Simon Davies’ wicked free-kick cannoned back off the bar before Etuhu’s point-blank header struck a post.

Juve seemed to be buckling under the pressure and found themselves 2-1 down when Gera fired into the roof of Chimenti’s net after an incisive pull-back from Davies in the box to make it 2-3 on aggregate at half-time.

Buoyed by their first-half performance, Fulham continued to pile on the pressure after the break and it soon paid off when Diego was adjudged to have handled Duff’s cross in his own box.

Referee Bjorn Kuipers booked the Juve forward and pointed to the spot and Gera held his nerve to beat Chimenti and level the scores on aggregate.

If the scores remained the same, the game would go to extra time and Zaccheroni decided to bring on Paolo de Ceglie for Camoranesi to shore up his defence and deny Fulham a fourth.

Diego’s curling cross then had to be cut out by Kelly inside the box as the Bianconeri looked for a second away goal that would all but kill the tie.

Gera thought Fulham should have had a second penalty on the hour when he went down under pressure from De Ceglie and Grygera but referee Kuipers waved play on.

Hodgson, sensing that one more goal would win it, replaced Kelly with forward Dempsey and pushed Gera out to his natural position on the left wing.

The American was soon in the thick of the action as his pass set up Duff but the former Chelsea winger’s pull-back failed to find a Fulham player in the box.

Dempsey drew a brilliant save from Chimenti with a free header from seven yards out.

Chimenti then awkwardly punched Gera’s shot away as Fulham stepped up their hunt for a winner

Juventus’ own attempts to find a winner came mainly from counter-attacks, but in truth the one-man disadvantage was clear.

Dempsey then sent the Craven Cottage crowd into raptures with his 83rd-minute strike.

The American took advantage of some slack defending from Zebina to drift a beautifully crafted chip past Chimenti.

Juventus were reduced to nine men when Zebina was sent off for lashing out at Duff and Fulham played keep-ball for the remainder of the match to round off a memorable night for the West London club.

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