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Juventus v. Fulham: Europa continua...

The Cottagers are in town for the first leg of our sweet sixteen grouping. Tonight Zaccheroni's men will have to suspend their belief that they belong in UEFA's big boy tournament, and focus on a team that's in great shape, ready for the attention they'll receive if things go according to their plan. For Juventus, that means forgetting the posh neighbourhood of European glory we grew up in, folding back those Italian designer label sleeves of ours, and fighting a hard working man who deserves a shot at what little bragging rights of ours remain this season. Full preview in conjunction with the Fulham Offside after the jump.

Lapo can be such a moron sometimes though. My poor Raptors.

First a quick background look at Fulham. They were founded in 1879 in a borough of London. The club has spent the last nine seasons in the top flight of English football and finished seventhoverall last year and currently sit eighth or tenth so far this season, depending on how you look at the table. Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed owns the club and they play their football at the stadium known as Craven Cottage, on the very same grounds where the club began their professional football more then one century ago.

Their coach, Roy Hodgson, is in fact no stranger to Italian football. The sixty-two year old coached none other than Inter from the 5th of October in 1995 to the 25th of May 1997, where he guided them to 7th and 3rd place finishes respectfully before he was eventually replaced by Luigi Simoni. Then after a brief stint back in England withBlackburn, he returned to the helm of Inter for about a month in 1999, before moving to Udinese's bench on the 21th of June 2001 to the 10th of December 2001.

Hodgson's pre-match thoughts:

"For us it is of great satisfaction having made it to this point and being able to play against a great team like Juventus. It is the crowning of all we have done in recent years, but we do not want to stop here and want to keep improving, conscious of the fact that there is still much to be done to reach the level of clubs like Juventus, Inter, Milan, Chelsea or Liverpool.

I don’t think that the fact that I am ahead of Zaccheroni counts. It depends on the teams we coached in the past. It will not be a duel between two coaches but between two teams. Here in Italy, I was happy and I like to return. Inter? Tomorrow’s match has nothing to do with my previous experience. I am only interested in Fulham now.

Ever since we are children we hear people speaking of Juventus and everybody would like to play against them and this is why we are awaiting the match with great anxiousness and excitement. Juve is always Juve, even though it is not going through its best season. We know we will be playing against a European heavyweight but we will try to give our best to obtain a positive result."

If any of you guys and girls want to check out Fulham's take on things, visit Tim at the Fulham Offside for some more information about the game. For the first leg, Tim had prepared some questions for the Juventus Offside to enlighten his supporters about our season this year to which we answered, and he gladly did the same for us.

How would you describe Fulham's present form?

Our form is the best it's been in years. We led the league form table in February, gaining 11 points from 5 games. We also knocked off cup-holders ShaktarDonetsk, advanced to the FA Cup Quarterfinals, and only conceded one goal (okay, two, but one was a own goal) the entire month of February. Compared to a truly awful January things are great right now, but could change on a dime -- March throws up some tough opponents with you, United, City, and Spurs.

Who are your top players available/injured at the moment?

Our captain Danny Murphy will be unavailable because of suspension, and Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and John Paintsil are all out with long term injuries. But other than that play makers Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff should start, as with defense stalwarts Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes.

What style/formation of football does your coach like to play?

Since Andy Johnson has been in and out most of the season, Roy Hodgson has ditched the standard 4-4-2 with a complex formation that is defensively a 4-5-1 and offensively a 4-4-1-1, if not at times a 4-3-2-1. Fulham play a nice mix of pretty passing and efficient crossing -- some say Arsenal-lite.

If you could describe your club in one word, what would it be?

Community. From the manager, to the players, to the fans, to the stadium -- supporting Fulham feels like supporting a museum or charitable trust. I don't feel like I am supporting a money making machine, but a club and fans that care.

If you could change any one thing about your club, what would you do?

I would find a way to expand the stadium so to increase the revenue. But that would be tricky as Craven Cottage is a gorgeous old stadium that is similar to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field in being small and historic.

Who is Fulham's most hated rival in London?

Officially it is Chelsea. I think our stadiums are like a mile apart or something. QPR are second, but they're a division below us. I, and others, have developed a huge disliking toward West Ham in recent times.

Are you happy the way Roy Hodgson is running the show? If not who would you prefer?

Oh my lord yes. Besides Mohammed Al Fayed purchasing the club from the brink of extinction, Roy is probably the best thing that happened to Fulham.

Zaccheroni's pre-match thoughts:

"We will be facing a strong , compact team that knows what it wants and how to get there. It is the classical English team, robust and which has great team spirit. I know Hodgson well. He is a well balanced coach who does not try to overdo things and against whom you must keep a close look. It will be an important match but we must remember that it is 180 minutes long.

In the last few days I managed to have back a number of players, even though on a part-time basis. The important thing is not to end up with the same 11 players for 3 consecutive matches. I hope I will soon have at least three fourths of the squad available soon, so that we can be competitive on all fronts. Sissoko should be fit, Marchisio was in bed yesterday and we will have to see how he is feeling today. Melo is suspended. Poulsen? He is not yet 90 minutes ready but he is experienced , has a great personality and knows how to manage. If I field him he will know how to use his energy, just like Camoranesi. Caceres is the player who is most in doubt. I do not want to force anyone. I will wait till tomorrow to take such decisions.

We must still find the right equilibrium to help the strikers. I asked David to help the team out a lot, even because somebody like him is not waiting for me to teach him how to score. We must put him in the right condition to do what he knows best."

Fulham is definitely not to be taken lightly tonight, as Zola echoed Zaccheroni's sentiments. The club had to go through reigning Europa League champions Shaktar Donetsk to get here, in addition, they've also made it to the FA cup quarter-finals where they're up against Tottenham. Time will tell if they're being stretched too thin or not, however one thing's for sure they're certainly not lacking in the confidence department right now. They do have a couple of injuries right now, as Tim mentioned above, namely Andrew Johnson, Clint Dempsey, John Pantsil and Kagisho Dikgacoi. On-loan defender Nicky Shorey is cup-tied and Danny Murphy is suspended.

Probable: Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Kelly; Duff, Greening, Etuhu, Davies; Gera; Zamora.

Juventus really need to have a consistent effort here for 90 mins if we want to advance in this competition. Playing at home means that we cannot under any circumstances allow them to run up the away goals. Unfortunately that might be translated into us 'parking the bus' and 'battening down the hatches'. Wrong. Without Chiellini, or Buffon in this one, our best defense has to be a good offense. Diego will be crucial here as always, as well as Camoranesi and Sissoko. Hopefully the break against Fiorentina gave Del Piero and Cannavaro some good rest, and they can both contribute in their respective roles. Please, Dear God contribute Alex. Melo is suspended, Marchisio is still sick I think, Poulsen isn't 100%, Amauri is out injured, Giovinco isn't called-up, but Salihams, Iaquinta, and Zebina could be featured.

Probable: Manninger; Grygera, Legrottaglie, Grosso; Camoranesi, Sissoko, Candreva, De Ceglie; Diego; Del Piero, Trezeguet.

Links: [match thread] [direct game link]