HAMBURG, May 11 – Fulham manager Roy Hodgson is hoping that his side's fairytale journey to the Europa League final ends with them lifting their first ever major trophy here on Wednesday when they face Spanish outfit Atletico Madrid.
However, for Fulham – who have defied the odds this campaign to see off Juventus and Hamburg – to triumph they will need veteran Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to be back to his reliable self after a dreadful blunder in Sunday’s 4-0 defeat by Arsenal.
The Fulham squad flies in on Tuesday morning and Hodgson is hoping the flight leaves without a hitch having already had problems getting to Hamburg for last month’s semi-final.
The volcano eruption in Iceland which disrupted European flights last month meant Fulham had a 1,000 mile round-trip to get to Hamburg.
More disruption to flights caused by the volcano over the weekend now seems to have passed, but Atletico flew to Hamburg earlier than planned on Monday afternoon just to be sure.
Schwarzer has been in stellar form this season and one of the stars on the road to the final.
However an error on Sunday saw Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin nick the ball, round the Australian and slot in from a tight angle for the opening goal.
But Hodgson – who guided Inter Milan to the 1997 UEFA Cup final where they lost on penalties over two legs – said he would rather the blunder came in Sunday’s Premier League defeat than against Atletico on Wednesday.
"Schwarzer made a rare mistake, better he did it there than on Wednesday," said 62-year-old Hodgson, who rested midfielders Zoltan Gera, captain Danny Murphy and Simon Davies at the Emirates Stadium for Wednesday’s final.
"He has hardly put a glove wrong all season, so better he did it then and I have told him that.
"I am happy to finish 12th (in the Premier League), we have had the final in mind and we are probably a few points down from where we would have been if we weren’t involved.
"But getting to the Europa League final really overshadows anything we would have done in the league," added Hodgson, who has been linked with a move to a bigger club following his superb stewardship of Fulham on a relatively low budget.
However, he does have worries over the fitness of several key players.
Striker Bobby Zamora faces a race against time to overcome an Achilles problem, while defender John Pantsil and Bjorn Helge Riise were both substituted against Arsenal on Sunday and need to shake off injuries.
Atletico’s veteran Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan is excited about the prospect of playing in a European final as he bids to help the Madrid club claim some silverware after a frustrating season.
The former Manchester United striker fired home a Jose Antonio Reyes cross to confirm Liverpool’s exit at Anfield in the semi-final and is looking forward to the final.
"Fulham are a team that work very well and have good players," said Forlan.
"Defensively, they are very solid.
"Their captain Danny Murphy is very experienced, and who has won titles and up front, they can create danger and score goals."
But despite knocking out Liverpool in the last four, Forlan says both sides will have their chance to win the Europa League in the competition’s inaugural season.
"I think it is 50-50," he said.
"Of course, we’ll go there believing in ourselves and in the way we are playing.
"We know that we have improved a lot, are more solid and working well as a team.
"It is a final, so it’s the details that will decide whether we win or lose.
"These are unique games, and different circumstances can occur, so you never know."