CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Thursday, April 1, 2010
The Cottagers continued their undefeated home record in Thursday's Europa League quarterfinal, but conceded an away goal in the waning minutes that the Germans will gladly carry with them for next week's return leg.
Clint Dempsey recorded a full 90 minutes of action, annoying the Wolfsburg defense and setting up the first goal of the evening.
Following a scoreless first half, the blazing Bobby Zamora lit up the scoreboard and Damien Duff followed suit four minutes after, before Alexander Madlung authored the crucial away goal.
Both squads came out on all cylinders, but neither managed to created any dangerous chances on goal until the 20th minute, when Wolfsburg's Christian Gentner fired from just outside the area straight at Mark Schwarzer.
The hosts responded just minutes later courtesy of the sole American on the field, with Dempsey laying off to Zoltan Gera for an errant effort from 25 yards out. The Texan followed up his effort in the 31st minute with another blast that was pushed away by Wolfsburg netminder Diego Benaglio.
Zamora joined in the offensive spurt with a chance of his own, striking across the goal mouth from the right baseline, but with no one there for the tap-in.
Dempsey provided the best chance of the first half on the final play before the intermission following a nice slice into the box from Damien Duff. The Irishmen laid off for the unmarked 27-year old at the top of the area, but Dempsey's shot fired left.
The Wolfsburg offense came alive in the second half thanks to the duo of Edin Dzeko and Grafite. After firing wide left in the 49th minute, Dzeko found himself with an open header just yards in front of the net after Fulham defender Brede Hangeland was unable to clear the cross. Unfortunately for the Bosnian, his attempt caromed wide left of Schwarzer's net.
Grafite followed up that chance with one of his own a minute later, a blast straight at the Australian keeper.
Fulham had struggled to create chances in the opening quarter hour of the half, piecing together a few drives but coming up short in the end. Finally, the floodgates opened in the 59th after Dempsey airmailed a pass from the left to Zamora in the open midfield. The 29-year old curled in a left-footer from 20 yards out to send the Craven Cottage faithful into a frenzy.
Their celebration continued just four minutes later as Duff slammed home a second goal, after Zamora claimed the ball in the heart of the box and laid off to the oncoming Irishman at the edge.
With a comfortable two-goal advantage, the hosts settled back and waited for the Wolfsburg to put together some form of attack. They looked to have the game under control and the shutout secured, until a quick restart in the 89th minute gave birth to the potentially crucial away goal. Bosnian Zvjezdan Misimovic fed a cross from the right side and found Alexander Madlung rising to the occasion for the header and the 2-1 final.
Roy Hodgson's men make the trip to Lower Saxony next Thursday for the decisive return leg and a chance to book an unprecedented ticket in the semifinals of European competition.