The UEFA Cup holders, two-time European champions Juventus and a Hamburger SV side on the brink of a home final were all beaten on Fulham FC's scenic path to the showpiece.
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They may have gone around the houses to get there, but Fulham FC's limitless resolve proved sufficient for a place against Club Atlético de Madrid in the inaugural UEFA Europa League showpiece – the London club's first continental final in only their second season of European competition.
The adventure for Roy Hodgson's men began in Lithuania in July and has taken in a total of 18 matches and eight countries. If their 6-0 aggregate win against FK Vėtra in the third qualifying round belied the tension to come, it was progress nonetheless and they duly dispatched Russian team FC Amkar Perm in the play-offs.
UEFA.com assesses a sometimes hazardous road to the final.
UEFA Europa League Group E
An unremarkable 1-1 draw at PFC CSKA Sofia launched Fulham's competition proper but gave little insight into the drama their campaign would provide. A 1-0 home victory against FC Basel 1893 hardly set pulses racing either, yet when a stoppage-time equaliser for AS Roma denied Fulham a replica result in their next match, there was notice of a bumpy ride ahead. Defeat at the Stadio Olimpico put Hodgson's side in reverse and even after a 1-0 success against CSKA, three points were needed away to Basel on Matchday 6. With the visitors 2-0 and 3-1 up, Marco Streller's goal three minutes from time had Fulham hanging on for survival. They prevailed 3-2 and took second place in the group.
Round of 32
Fulham FC 2-1 1-1 FC Shakhtar Donetsk (agg: 3-2)
Pitted against the winners of last season's UEFA Cup, this was positively plain sailing compared with much of Fulham's odyssey. They never trailed throughout the tie, edging in front three minutes into the first instalment thanks to Zoltán Gera's third goal in as many tournament matches. Luiz Adriano and Bobby Zamora then traded goals – the latter a thunderbolt off the crossbar – to give Fulham the advantage going to Ukraine. Brede Hangeland's header and a stoic defensive display sufficed for the Cottagers to advance despite Jadson's leveller on the night and captain Danny Murphy's late dismissal.
Round of 16
Juventus 3-1 1-4 Fulham FC (agg: 4-5)
A tie that set the bar for Fulham's European season. A 3-1 defeat in Turin represented a not insurmountable object but when David Trezeguet struck for the two-time European champions two minutes into the return game, the adventure looked doomed. Fulham, though, had not read the script. Fabio Cannavaro's sending-off and goals from Zamora and Gera injected belief back into the home ranks by half-time, and the Hungarian added another from the spot before Clint Dempsey's chip with eight minutes left crowned a remarkable evening beside the Thames.
Fulham FC 2-1 1-0 VfL Wolfsburg (agg: 3-1)
The last eight was uncharted territory for Fulham, but, as has been the case throughout this campaign, they were unfazed by the next hurdle. Zamora and Damien Duff found the net in close succession, giving the first-leg hosts the unfamiliar feeling of a two-goal cushion, although Alexander Madlung's late header restored hope for the reigning German champions. It was a false dawn for Wolfsburg, however: any optimism was extinguished by Zamora with just 25 seconds on the clock at the VfL Wolfsburg Arena.
Hamburger SV 0-0 1-2 Fulham FC (agg: 1-2)
The carrot of a home final would surely prove irresistible for HSV – and insuperable for Fulham. A goalless draw at the showpiece venue offered little hint of the aggregate outcome, yet Mladen Petrić's crashing free-kick midway through the first half of the decisive leg in the English capital presented the Premier League outfit with another mountain to climb. They are pass masters at such tests, though, and booked their final berth courtesy of second-half efforts from Simon Davies and the ecstatic Gera.