LONDON, April 30 – Humble Fulham reached the first European final of their 131-history on Thursday, but Liverpool's season of misery was compounded when Atletico Madrid prevented hopes of an all-English Europa League title showdown.Fulham manager Roy Hodgson saluted his side’s unbreakable spirit as they completed a remarkable run to the May 12 final with a 2-1 win over Hamburg at Craven Cottage.
The unfashionable Premier League team were heading out of the competition with 21 minutes to play in the semi-final second leg.
But Hodgson’s men, who lost leading scorer Bobby Zamora to injury early in the second half, dug deep to recover from Mladen Petric’s first half goal thanks to late strikes from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera.
The Cottagers had already eliminated holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus and German champions Wolfsburg in a fairytale journey.
Fulham have never won a major honour at home or abroad, but they will play in a first European final, against Atletico at Hamburg’s Nordbank Arena on May 12.
Former Inter Milan boss Hodgson said: "I thought it was a great performance. The game was quite even and all of a sudden we were a goal down knowing it was an away goal as well.
"It would have been easy to lose our heads and forget our plans but we didn’t and we came back into it. I thought we were good value for the win.
"The character of this team has been proved time and time again but they consistently surprise me with the way they keep going.
"Normally when you have a lot of success it softens you and you become less determined to get the next success. That hasn’t happened to this team."
At Anfield, Diego Forlan’s 102nd minute goal ended Liverpool’s hopes of a first trophy in four years as Rafa Benitez’s side were denied a place in the final by Atletico Madrid on the away goals rule.
On a dramatic night, Yossi Benayoun’s 95th minute goal, which gave the hosts a 2-1 semi-final aggregate advantage, looked to have booked Liverpool a place in their third European final in six seasons.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Alberto Aquilani had levelled the aggregate scores with a sublime finish before Benayoun struck early in extra time.
But former Manchester United striker Forlan, whose goal gave Atletico a narrow 1-0 lead from the first leg, sent the Spaniards through.
"It didn’t matter who scored tonight. It was a difficult game and we knew they would come after us," said Forlan.
"They played well in the first half and then we settled down. We made a mistake on their goal in extra-time, but we knew one goal would do it for us."