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They say there is no place like home and Hamburger SV are determined to prove it in the climax to the inaugural UEFA Europa League season, according to striker Mladen Petrić.
Bruno Labbadia's Bundesliga side have their hearts set on winning a place in the final in their home stadium on 12 May and Petrić says their motivation could not be higher as they prepare for Thursday's semi-final first leg against Fulham FC.
The prospect of a showpiece final in front of their own supporters is tantalisingly close and Petrić, Hamburg's leading scorer in the competition, believes they can make it. "
There is some extra pressure, but it's a positive pressure," he told UEFA.com. "When you have the chance to play a final at home, you can use that as motivation. Because if you can play a final at home it's completely different than playing it in another stadium.
"We have a good reputation in Europe, and have reached the semi-final twice in a row, and there aren't many teams who can say that," the 29-year-old added. "We have been very confident in the Europa League, and have managed to beat some big names, like last season when nobody really expected us to be so strong."
If Hamburg needed any further spur, a mention of last season's semi-final should provide it. Under Martin Jol, they missed out in agonising fashion on their first European final since 1983 with an away-goals defeat by local rivals Werder Bremen in a tie they had looked certain to win. HSV won the first leg 1-0 in Bremen and then scored first in the return only to succumb 3-2 in front of their horrified home supporters.
"It will be a completely different game," promised Petrić, who will miss the first leg because of a groin injury. "We were very unlucky in those matches. We were eliminated, even though in my opinion it wasn't necessarily deserved. But it happens. We shouldn't be looking too much at mistakes we made there, in order to improve. I think that potentially we have a better team now, with more quality, and if we can demonstrate that, then it will hopefully go better than last time."
Only Roy Hodgson's Fulham, the tournament's surprise package, stand between Hamburg and their dream final. Petrić said he watched TV coverage of the west London side's win against his old club, FC Basel 1893, in the group stage "but didn't really pay much attention, because back then nobody thought we would be facing each other". He added: "I can't say much about them, except that we should never underestimate them because they have already eliminated very big names, and in the last four there are no easy teams."
Hamburg have had quite a journey to the semi-finals, with Petrić contributing five goals – including a spectacular bicycle kick against R. Standard de Liège in the quarter-finals and a key strike in an "explosive" last-32 decider at PSV Eindhoven. His goal 60 seconds into the second half in the Netherlands sparked a fightback by a Hamburg side trailing 2-0 on the night and 2-1 overall; they eventually won through on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw.
In Petrić's absence, HSV coach Labbadia can still call on the four-goal Swedish international Marcus Berg and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has found the net twice in Europe since joining in January. Petrić said of the Dutchman: "He was injured for a long time and he was missing match practice, but you can see that he's improving from game to game, and is finding his style of play again. Of course you need to adapt to a new team, and in that respect it's already worked out very well."
Whatever the personnel, Petrić says Hamburg will be ready. "Bruno Labbadia is very, very meticulous." And he has not given up hope of being fit for the return in London. The Croatian has "mixed memories about England" having scored his country's winner in a 3-2 UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying success at Wembley but suffered a 5-1 loss there in FIFA World Cup qualifying last September. "I am looking forward to travelling to England again, because the atmosphere in the stadiums is always wonderful." HSV supporters will be praying he is fit to make the trip.
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