BASEL // Roy Hodgson set his sights on a return to Italy after Fulham qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a well-deserved 3-2 victory over FC Basel. Fulham join group winners Roma plus the likes of Champions League drop-outs Juventus, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid in the last 32 of the tournament. The draw is made at Uefa headquarters in Nyon at 4pm today and Fulham cannot meet Liverpool or Everton. But Hodgson, the former Inter Milan manager, has his eye on one potential tie in particular.
"I wouldn't mind playing Juventus," he said after a first-half double from Bobby Zamora and a Zoltan Gera strike had set Fulham on their way to victory. "I am looking forward to the next round, the draw to see who we get and then we see how far we can go." Hodgson has treated the Europa League as an "adventure" for the Fulham supporters, but he has always placed the Premier League as his priority.
That attitude is unlikely to change, particularly when the rotation policy Fulham are using allows the likes of Bjorn Helge Riise and Gera to shine the way they did against Basel. "I don't know whether I am enthusiastic [now we have qualified], I am very satisfied. I am particularly pleased for the fans," Hodgson continued. "I walked around Basel in the afternoon before the game and I was stopped by fans saying how much they were enjoying the adventure. We have done more than we set out to do. It's been a bonus so far and now we face an even bigger bonus."
Elsewhere, Hertha Berlin overcame their dismal form in the German Bundesliga to beat Sporting Lisbon 1-0 and advance alongside the already-qualified Portuguese side - their first victory at the Olympic stadium in 130 days. The win should boost the Hertha players' confidence after a dreadful start to the season that has left then stranded at the bottom of the Bundesliga. The team have not won in the domestic league since the first match of the season and have only six points from 16 games.
They face a difficult game at Bayern Munich tomorrow in their last match before the winter break. Coach Friedhelm Funkel is looking forward to the next round rather than worrying about the extra games that qualification will bring in 2010. "That absolutely is not a disadvantage for the Bundesliga, quite the contrary," Funkel said. "Any extra income is, of course, worth its weight in gold." * PA Sport