Fulham FC took a giant step towards the third round of the UEFA Cup with a comprehensive first-leg victory against ten-man NK Dinamo Zagreb at the Maksimir stadium.
Kristijan Polovanec's dismissal for a professional foul gave the English side the impetus to take the lead through Luis Boa Morte. With Dinamo stretched in the second half, Steve Marlet and Barry Hayles completed the scoring to give Fulham a sizeable advantage to defend in the second leg in London.
A tentative first half was brought to life by the red card shown to Polovanec on 33 minutes. Boa Morte, who had dragged Fulham's best chance wide of goal 20 minutes earlier, burst forward and was felled by the central defender, Dinamo's last line of defence. Fulham manager Jean Tigana said of the decision: "The match was decided by the expulsion of their player."
Boa Morte brilliance
The home side had not been without their chances, Dumitru Mitu going close with a volley and Boško Balaban firing just over the crossbar, but it was Fulham who took the lead. Marlet fed Malbranque on the left and his diagonal ball was collected by Boa Morte, who rounded Tomislav Butina and slid a shot in from a narrow angle.
Van der Sar tested
Despite being a man down, Dinamo enjoyed more of the ball as half-time approached, Ivica Olic drawing a fine save from Edwin van der Sar with a flicked header and Mitu rattling the angle of post and crossbar with an angled effort from 18 metres.
Fulham pressed home their advantage after the break, Japanese substitute Junichi Inamoto setting up Marlet for their second goal with his first touch on the hour, the French international steadying himself before slotting the ball past the advancing goalkeeper.
As tireless Dinamo surged forward, Fulham caught them on the counterattack with a third goal on 78 minutes, substitute Andrejs Štolcers bursting down the left and delivering a square-ball to the far post for fellow replacement Hayles to crash into the roof of the net.
Mountain to climb
With Fulham happy to defend their lead, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the ten men of Dinamo. Although Van der Sar was tested several times in the closing minutes, notably by Mihael Mikic’s fierce, rising drive, the Croatian side still have a three-goal deficit to claw back in a fortnight.
Tigana is "convinced" his side will win the return fixture at Loftus Road, while his opposite number, Miroslav Blaževic, was not so optimistic. "I cannot be satisfied with my players' performance," said the Dinamo coach. "If there is someone to be praised it's the Dinamo fans."