UEFA Europa League Final 2010
Hamburg Arena 19:45 GMT
Atletico Madrid v Fulham
When Liverpool sagged to let Diego Forlan net and send Atletico Madrid into the Europa League final, it was a mini-victory for the competition. An Anglo-Spanish final sounds more, well, continental than a re-run of a Premier League game.
English clubs might flash the cash but we don't want an all-any nation European final any more than a Chelsea v Man U Champions League final every season. Contrasting styles is what European cups should be about. A bit sad for 'Pool, whose fans could have followed in the footsteps of the Beatles on the Reeperbahn of that great German port city.
Perhaps the Europa League is just a punch diluted so much it lacks the kick of the old UEFA Cup, as lukewarm as the lineup for the old Cup Winners' Cup, a collection of Champions League rejects and former European greats like Marseille, Anderlecht, Benfica and Panathanaikos.
If we can forget the languorous saga of that 18-game odyssey the teams took to the final, the meagre winnings and overall feeling of second prize compared to the mighty Champions League, the meeting of big-ish Atletico and little Fulham has a lot to recommend it.
Not many column inches have been written about Atletico, whose European high point came in tying the 1974 European Cup Final with Bayern, before losing the replay. Their domestic hour of glory was the league and cup double of 1996, but the Spanish capital's second club have struggled to break the Barca-Real log-jam since. Coach Quique Sanchez Flores, has only been in the job since October, but has hauled the Rojiblancos to the Copa del Rey final as well as this one.
But Roy Hodgson remains the real hero of the hour. He rather resembles an English coach of the '30s or '50s, having dragged his suitcase of coaching manuals around eight countries. Should Fabio Capello call it a day now, he would appear an inspired choice to replace him.
Into his seventh decade, Hodgson has distilled a simple football philosophy which has guided one of the Premier League's poorer teams into a European final for the first time. Fulham, that cosy little club by the Thames no-one has a bad word to say about.
Like Odysseus, he has led his warriors on an odyssey through many trials, the last of which is tonight, before he can bring them home with their booty.
Possible lineups:Fulham - Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy, Etuhu, Duff, Gera, Zamora
Atletico - De Gea, Valera, Dominguez, Perea, Antonio Lopez, Reyes, Assuncao, Raul Garcia, Simao, Aguero, Forlan
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile