Basel 2 Fulham 3
Fulham qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a fantastic win in Basel courtesy of two goals from Zamora and one from Gera.
In a game that Fulham had to win to ensure qualification for the knockout stages, Roy Hodgson made seven changes to the side that drew up at Turf Moor on Saturday.
It was by no means the strongest eleven available with such first team stalwarts as Hangeland, Duff and Dempsey named on the bench. Future prospect, Smalling filled in at centre back.
Roy Hodgson justified his starting eleven selection by remarking,
'It's important to keep giving players like Smalling and Riise the chance because they deserve it. We've chosen the strongest team we can select given injuries and suspension."
With festive snow falling it was Frei who had the first goal bound effort although Schwarzer dealt with it comfortably. If Schwarzer had looked comfortable you had to smile when his opposite number, Colomba, showed a touch of the showman to stop a routine effort from Danny Murphy.
Frei was looking dangerous up front for the Swiss side but without causing Fulham too much alarm. With eighteen minutes played Bobby Zamora thought he`d opened the scoring after netting off the post but the celebrations were cut short by the raised flag.
Basel had a vociferous appeal for a penalty turned down after Pantsil appeared to be the culprit. Fulham were doing well and Zamora was continuing the nice habit he`d picked up of troubling defences. As half time approached Basel, pushing forward, saw Inkoom fire over when well placed.
Just as it looked as if the half would end goal less Fulham got that breakthrough their first half play had deserved. Bjorn Helge Riise delivered san inviting cross and when the Basel defence dithered there was Zamora on hand to net.
Four minutes later, much to our delight, Fulham doubled their lead. Zamora played the ball to Riise and was on hand to net the resulting cross with a header at the back post, surely the game was now ours to throw away with a 2-0 lead at half time!
The Swiss side made two changes at half time but it was Fulham that went on the attack straight away. Zamora, looking for a hat trick forced a save out of Colomba. With a two goal lead Fulham looked content to let Basel have the ball until they reached the final third of the pitch and then they were closed down.
As the hour mark was approached, Etuhu did well to block a Frei shot and Schwarzer did well to save a shot from Atan. However, the sudden spell of pressure did reap dividends for the home side when Fulham conceded a penalty when Hughes was adjudged to have handled, Frei made no mistake from the spot. Although it has to be said that the Basel players appeared to get the referee to change his mind after he`d awarded a corner.
Basel were now in the ascendancy and Stocker headed over from a good position. With Greening on a yellow card Hodgson introduced Dempsey in place of the ex-West Brom man. Still our hosts pushed forward and Almerares went close with a header.
Thankfully, any thoughts of throwing away the two goal half time lead were eased when Zoltan Gera got a third for Fulham after seventy seven minutes converting, with aplomb, a pass from Kelly. With ten minutes of normal time to play, Hodgson made his second substitution introducing Duff for our two goal hero, Zamora,
Fulham were still not safe though and Schwarzer would have been relieved to see Frei`s shot hit the bar rather than slip under it to set up a nervous finale. Basel then reduced the arrears when Streller headed in a corner. Fulham now had three minutes of normal time to survive.
As the game headed into stoppage time nerves were kicking in with the Basel keeper, Colomba, coming up to join his attack. Real do-or-die stuff! But Fulham held on for a memorable win!