DAVID SMITH - Thursday, April 22, 2010
Clint Dempsey could return from a thigh injury for Fulham as they face Hamburg in the first leg of the home-and-home Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
Amidst a spate of volcano-induced flight delays across the continent, the Cottagers made the long trek over land to Hamburg's Nordbank Arena, in what they hope is the first of two visits to the city.
Should they overcome the currently-struggling German team, they would be set for a May 12 return to Hamburg for a final date against either Liverpool or Atletico Madrid, also to take place on the same grounds.
They must first get by the German team who, aside from their current success in Europe, have had little to cheer about in recent months.
Despite coming through their quarterfinal matchup against Standard Liege in fairly straightforward fashion, they have fallen off considerably in league play as of late. Sunday's lifeless 1-0 defeat at home to Mainz was the latest setback in a domestic campaign in which they have only managed to earn a trio of victories in 13 tries.
Having entered the new year with hopes of securing a return to the Champions League, the Hamburgers are now on the losing end of a battle for a place in the Europa League, and may need to hoist the trophy to do so as their seventh-place league standing will not be sufficient.
With anything but a finish in the middle of the Premier League standings a mathematical impossibility, Hodgson and the Cottagers have thrown their entire effort into Europe. They have nevertheless found the moxie post decent league results in recent weeks, most notably derailing Liverpool's failed quest for the Champions League with a goalless draw at Anfield less than two weeks before.
While Dempsey could find his way back into Hodgson's attack, usual contributors John Pantsil, Nicky Shorey and Stefano Okaka are all ineligible for the game, and forward Andy Johnson continues to be absent with a knee injury.
The Hamburgers are missing starting attacking midfielder Elijero Elia to an ankle injury as well as defender Marcell Jansen to a foot injury. Additionally, forward Mladen Petric continues to be absent from a muscle strain, meaning that Ruud van Nistelrooy will gallop onto the field paired with marksman Paolo Guerrero, whose extended suspension for throwing a water bottle at a fan is only for domestic competition.