Having learned "how much it hurts to lose" in last season's semi-finals, Dennis Aogo is determined Hamburger SV will not miss their chance of reaching the UEFA Europa League final as Fulham FC come to call.
Hamburg lost out to Bundesliga rivals Werder Bremen in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup last four, but with the additional incentive this time round of playing in the final at their own Hamburg Arena on 12 May, the 23-year-old Aogo was adamant they would not slip up against their English opponents. "Everyone who played in last season's semi-final knows how much it hurts to lose," he said. "This is why we want to do much better this year, and there could be no bigger motivation than knowing that the final will be staged here in Hamburg."
Fulham are an unknown quantity for Hamburg, as they were to most of the sides they met this season. Having seen Roy Hodgson's side eliminate German champions VfL Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals, though, Aogo knows the Cottagers' lack of European pedigree is no reflection of the danger they can pose. "They have a lot of quality, especially in attack with Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff, so we will have to be careful," he said, adding: "All English sides play the same way; they are physical and aggressive and we will have to match them."
Aogo – who can play at the back or in midfield – is now something of a seasoned campaigner, having made his Bundesliga debut for SC Freiburg at the age of 17 before moving to HSV in 2008. Another fine year has strengthened the former Under-21 international's claims for a place in Germany's FIFA World Cup finals squad, and there are rumours that AC Milan are monitoring his progress. "Of course, I have heard that they are watching me, but this does not matter at the moment," insisted Aogo. "I am purely focused on this match. It is not me that matters, but the whole team and the club."
Hamburg's Bundesliga campaign has not gone to plan this season, and they lie seventh in the table, five points adrift of fifth-placed BV Borussia Dortmund, who occupy the final European place for next season. However, they remain unbeaten in seven UEFA club competition home games, and have shown much of their best form under Bruno Labbadia on continental nights. Aogo is certainly going into the Fulham opener with a certain indomitable spirit, asserting: "With our fans behind us at this stadium, we can beat any team in the world."
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