An own goal from Facundo Sava provided Hertha BSC Berlin with a 2-1 home victory against Fulham FC in their UEFA Cup third round first-leg encounter at the Olympiastadion. The Argentinian forward clipped the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net midway through the second half as he attempted to clear Marcelinho’s free-kick.
The final score defied the evidence of the opening 28 minutes of the match, in which both sides opted to play a tactical formation and refused to commit players into attacking positions. The exception to the rule came shortly before the half-hour mark when Hertha were awarded a corner after Marcelinho's shot was deflected behind the Fulham goal. The Brazilian midfield player then delivered the ball into the Fulham area for captain Stefan Beinlich to rise highest and head in past Edwin van der Sar.
Jean Tigana’s side, who qualified for the competition via the UEFA Intertoto Cup, showed more determination after the interval and got their reward in the 53rd minute following an attack involving three French players. Steed Malbranque eluded several half-hearted challenges on the edge of the penalty area before crossing to Martin Djetou. The defender headed goalwards only for the ball to bounce off the inside of the post past the diving Gábor Kiraly in the Hertha goal and into the path of Steve Marlet, who nodded into the empty net from close range.
Fulham continued to force the pace of the game and the visitors created a selection of half-chances, but substitute Michael Preetz almost put Hertha back in front only to head narrowly wide in the 61st minute. It was a signal for Hertha’s revival. Beinlich then headed over the crossbar, before Sava’s inadvertent flick provided Huub Stevens’ side with the win.
Marcelinho comes close
Both sides created two more opportunities before the end. First, Van der Sar had to be down smartly to deny Marcelinho at his near post in the 77th minute as the German side came close to extending their lead. Then three minutes later at the other end, Fulham were denied by Kiraly who collected the ball after Sean Davis’ free-kick from the left flank was headed goalwards by Marlet.
"I am disappointed because the first goal happened after the first corner for Berlin - and it happened in a way I have been warning about all week long," Tigana remarked afterwards. "I am happy about our equaliser, but it is sad that Sava, who played so well against Liverpool last weekend, stood in the wrong place today when they scored their first goal, and then he hit the own goal in the second half. Maybe it would have been better to play on Thursday because it needs some time to get over such an overwhelming victory like the one we had against Liverpool."
"I am angry about Fulham's equaliser," stated Stevens. "Our defence were simply not concentrating. In the end, the result is alright as Fulham had chances to equalise again, although we were also guilty of some misses. There is one more leg to go, and only then will we see what today's result was worth. With this advantage, we are still confident of advancing to the next round."