Fulham: Still Best Team in The World After Heartbreaking Draw With Roma

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IOctober 22, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Brede Hangeland of Fulham scores the first goal during the Group E Europa League match between Fulham and AS Roma at Craven Cottage on October 22, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship (UWCC) witnessed another defence today as newly crowned champions Fulham took on Italian giants AS Roma in the first ever Europa League UWCC title match.

The title of this piece may surprise you. Surely a draw against one of the biggest names in European football would be a major, historic achievement for Fulham?

While that may have been the mindset at the start of the game, at the final whistle it was Roma celebrating as if they'd won the competition and Fulham looking distraught.

The match saw a return to West London for former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri, and also an intriguing brother vs brother battle as Fulham's Bjorn Helge Riise was named in the starting line-up to face his more famous sibling, John Arne.

Bragging rights were shared in the end as Roma found a dramatic late equaliser to make it 1-1.

It was Fulham's Riise who caused the early problems, marauding down his wing and giving the opposition defenders something to think about.

And it was his corner that led to the opening chance of the game, the ball eventually falling to Jonathan Greening, whose shot was pushed round the post.

Greening then won another corner after his shot was deflected wide, from which Stephen Kelly had an effort well saved again by Roma 'keeper Doni.

Surprisingly, despite Roma's more illustrious reputation, it was Fulham who were outclassing their opponents, and their hard work soon paid off.

Bobby Zamora's shot deflected narrowly wide before Brede Hangeland out-jumped his markers to nod the home side into a deserved 1-0 lead soon after.

This rude awakening was perhaps what Roma needed as, for the first time in the match, they started to threaten Mark Schwarzer's goal. The Australian had to be alert to deny John Arne Riise's fine effort just before half-time.

As the second half progressed it looked as if Fulham were content to defend their slender lead and try and hit Roma on the counter-attack.

Roy Hodgson's plan nearly worked as Bobby Zamora's cross almost found Diomancy Kamara before the same two players combined again, this time Zamora's pass finding a way through the stretched defence only for Doni to gather the ball at Kamara's feet.

Roma's second-half dominance started to pay-off as the minutes wore on, however, with Schwarzer making a fine save from Mirko Vucinic's equally impressive curling effort.

With Roma seemingly camped inside the Fulham half, a breakthrough seemed inevitable, and it came after 75 minutes as Roma's Riise was brought down from behind by Stephen Kelly.

There was no doubt in the referee's mind that it was a penalty, but doubt of a different kind crept in soon enough as, even with the extra official behind the goal, the red card was mistakenly shown to Hangeland.

After a few moments deliberation, in which the Fulham players were adamant the two officials had made a mistake, the ref changed his mind and rightly sent Kelly off.

As Jeremy Menez stepped up to take the spot kick after a dramatic few minutes, the Fulham faithful behind the goal desperately tried to put him off. It must have worked as Schwarzer made a great save down to his right to blow the roof off Craven Cottage.

With Fulham desperately trying to find a moment of peace under the relentless Roma attack any delaying tactics were welcome, and Eric Nevland almost provided the ultimate one with a fierce effort beaten away at his near post by Doni.

At the other end John Arne Riise squandered a half chance as he came storming in at the back post only to send his shot wide.

Just as it looked like Fulham had secured a famous victory, Roma were awarded a  controversial corner from which Marco Andreolli found himself in space to control and volley past Pantsil, who got a touch which may have taken it past Schwarzer's despairing dive.

There was barely time for kick-off as Fulham had to come to terms with seeing victory snatched from them with the last kick of the match.

Menez's penalty was the 14th in UWCC history, and only the third to have been missed, while Stephen Kelly became the ninth different player to be sent-off in a UWCC title match.

Just 30 percent of voters in the poll correctly predicted that Fulham would hold on to their title against Roma, so well done to the minority!

Fulham's run

Fulham 2-0 Hull (Fulham become new champions)

Fulham 1-1 Roma

(Click here to see the complete history of Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship)

Fulham's next title defence comes on Sunday as they travel to face the riches of Manchester City. Can Fulham pull off another shock or will City become the best team in the world?!


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