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Fulham living the dream in Juventus

last updated Wednesday 10th March 2010, 10:16 PM
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
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Fulham arrived in a snow-covered Turin today for the 46th match of what feels like a never-ending season but no one connected with the west London club was complaining about the freezing conditions or fixture congestion. With Juventus standing between Fulham and a place in the Europa League quarter-finals, Roy Hodgson talked about his players taking part in a tie which was "beyond our dreams" when he took over two years ago.

An experienced Juventus team including Alessandro Del Piero, France's David Trezeguet and Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro await a club that was staring relegation to the Championship in the face when Hodgson supplanted Lawrie Sanchez at the end of 2007. It has been a remarkable journey ever since and Hodgson and his players are now daring to believe that Turin might not be the final destination on their European tour.

"I think given our position when I came to the club, I don't think many people would have given any credence to the fact we could be this far forward in our development now," said the Fulham manager. "The history we are making this year is a very important step for the club and one which I hope will provide a stronger foundation to keep our place among the elite in England."

No other Premier League club has played more games than Fulham this season and tomorrow night's fixture is the first of five in the space of a fortnight. That season-defining period includes the two ties against Juventus, Premier League matches against Manchester United and Manchester City and an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Wednesday week.

Not so long ago Hodgson was adopting a laissez-faire approach to the Europa League, using the competition to blood fringe players as he focused all his attention on top-flight survival. But having defeated the Europa League holders, Shakhtar Donetsk, in the previous round, after progressing from the group stages, and climbed to a position of safety in the Premier League, Hodgson admitted that his priorities have changed.

"A good finish in the Premier League is still very important," said Hodgson, who will be without the suspended Danny Murphy tomorrow. "But there is no way we are going to be in any way nonchalant about these two matches against Juventus or the FA Cup replay against Tottenham because if we could progress further in either of those two competitions it would be a magnificent feather in our cap."

Hodgson's achievements are already well respected in Italy, where he managed Internazionale on two occasions as well as Udinese, and there was a sense last night he would like to come back again one day. "Why not," said Hodgson. "The two spells I had with Inter were very enjoyable and I think I left a good memory among the people who work there. I'm really happy doing what I'm doing and recently renewed my contract. But Italy will always have a very fond place in my memory and I would always be very happy to come back here."

He would, however, have hoped to be greeted with better weather on his latest trip. With snow covering the pitch at the stadium, Hodgson agreed to train indoors last night. "I have to say Juventus were very good and they made it clear that if we insisted on training on it, as we have the right from Uefa to do, that they would take off the covers. But it was obvious to me that was counter-productive because both ourselves and Juventus would like to have the best pitch possible tomorrow."

Source Stuart James in the Guardian
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