Atletico Madrid v Fulham
Kick-off: 20-45 (CET)
The inaugural Europa League final at the Hamburg Arena gives Atletico Madrid and Fulham an opportunity to take home both a trophy and earn a piece of history.
Fulham’s long march to the final, which began in July last year, has taken them past the likes of Juventus, holders Shakhtar Donetsk and German champions Wolfsburg, while Atletico Madrid, whodropped down from the Champiosn League, have overcome Liverpool, Valencia and Galatasaray.
Atletico coach Quique Sánchez Flores sees Wednesday’s final as his biggest-ever match while Roy Hodgson anticipates a “great moment both in my career and in the history of Fulham”.
If Fulham could end their 131-year wait for a trophy it would certainly help eradicate the memory of Hodgson’s one previous European final – Inter’s 1997 UEFA Cup defeat by Schalke.
“This is a great occasion because it’s a one-off final,” he said. “To lose on penalties in front of your crowd wasn’t a happy memory, but I was proud to get to that final and even more proud to get to this. We have been much less fancied and have had a tougher passage.”
To give an indication of how far Fulham have travelled in recent years; they were a fourth-division outfit when Inter lost that two-legged final. Since Hodgson’s appointment in December 2007, the club has flourished: recording their highest top-flight placing – seventh last seeason – and reaching their first final since the 1975 FA Cup.
“We’re trying to win the competition,” added Hodgson, attempting to become the first English manager to land European silverware with an English club since Howard Kendall and Everton in 1985.
“It’s been a very good season and we’re determined to crown it by bringing home a trophy. You work hard to get to finals, playing a lot of important games, but at the end one team is smiling, the other has tears in their eyes.”
The Craven Cottage side hope Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff will be fit to play, although Zamora was unable to participate in Tuesday’s training session and must be regarded as doubtful.
Atletico, who start tonight’s game as favourites, will be looking to win their first European trophy since the 1962 Cup Winners’ Cup, in what will be their fifth final in total.
“Our primary responsibility is to do a good job,” said Quique Flores, missing only reserve goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo through injury. “We know how important this match is in the context of Atlético’s history but we’ll try not to change things too much. We don’t think there’s a favourite and we respect Fulham, who have a great manager and have earned their place. What worries me is us not doing ourselves justice.
“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 last October.
“The physical aspect and strategy come together. We have to take some risk but not open ourselves to dead-ball situations.
“There are many reasons to be optimistic but we have to be careful. And we need to be courageous.”
“We have had a really tough run but the team have stood up and come through those challenges. Finals are there to be enjoyed and you have to go out to win them. We just have to show the same spirit that’s taken us this far.”