Hodgson wants Fulham to give Juve fight to the finish
LONDON: Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has warned his side not to give up their Europa League dream without a fight when they face Italian giants Juventus in Thursday's last 16 second leg tie.
Hodgson's unheralded team have exceeded all expectations by reaching the latter stages of Europe's second-tier competition, but the west London club's adventure will come to an end unless they can overhaul Juventus's 3-1 lead at Craven Cottage.
While Juventus are clear favourites, Hodgson believes Dickson Etuhu's priceless away goal in Turin last week should give his players the belief to reproduce the kind of display that knocked out holders Shakhtar Donetsk in the last round.
And if Fulham needed any encouragement, they must have been delighted to see Alberto Zaccheroni's side squander a three-goal lead in their 3-3 draw with Siena at the weekend.
"It's not impossible. We're not out of it for sure," Hodgson said. "I've seen stranger things happen in my career, so I am sure the players will be doing their very best to turn the game around in the second leg."
Like Hodgson, Chris Baird, Fulham's Northern Ireland midfielder, has no doubts they can upset the form-book.
"The first match was a very tough game for us, we knew about the quality they had and they showed it in the first leg," Baird said.
"But I still think we've got a great chance bringing them back to our place. We'll be up for the game and we're confident that we can get a result and keep going in this competition."
Until Hodgson arrived at Fulham two years ago, the limit of their ambition was to cling onto a place in the Premier League. But the former Inter Milan and Switzerland coach has broadened the Cottagers' horizons with a combination of inspired signings and astute tactics.
Now they are still in with a chance of claiming their greatest scalp in arguably the biggest game in the club's history.
While Fulham's only European honour remains the much-maligned Intertoto Cup in 2002, Juventus boast one of the richest histories in the game.
The Turin club were crowned champions of Europe in 1985 and 1996 and also won the UEFA Cup - the predecessor to the Europa League - three times in 1977, 1990 and 1993.
A victory over Juve would confirm Fulham's rise to prominence but, more importantly for Hodgson, it would represent another reward for his players towards the end of a gruelling campaign.
With Fulham also still in the FA Cup - they face a quarter-final replay at Tottenham next week - Hodgson knows his season could be heading for a glorious finale or over in a flash.
"My concern is that, having done so well, it will impact upon us if we go out of any of the competitions," he said.
"It is very important that doesn't happen and we don't allow our season, which has been quite fantastic, just to slip away."
Hodgson hopes key central defender Brede Hangeland, who was forced out of Sunday's 3-0 defeat at Manchester United with a chest injury, will recover in time to start but midfielders Danny Murphy and Jonathan Greening are both suspended.
Injuries to first choice goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and his deputy Alex Manninger will once again force Juve to start with 39-year-old third reserve Antonio Chimenti.