Labbadia exit overshadows Hamburg build-up

LONDON - As preparation for a Europa League semi-final goes, sacking your coach three days beforehand does not fit the norm yet Hamburg SV believed it was a decision that had to be taken ahead of their crunch second leg at Fulham.

Chastened by a 5-1 loss at Hoffenheim on Sunday and a league run which has seen four wins in 15 matches, the Hamburg board had had enough and Bruno Labbadia was shown the door days before the club's biggest match of the season on Thursday.

The sacking was not that much of a surprise given the widely reported rumours that Labbadia had fallen out with a number of his squad including Ze Roberto, Mladen Petric, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Frank Rost.

The timing, however, was a shock.

"Risky but right," the Welt newspaper said. "Labbadia had already proved in his career the he is admittedly a good motivator but is unsuited to the long-term task of building a team."

Assistant coach Ricardo Moniz, dubbed a 'great motivator' by the club, was handed the task as stand-in coach of raising morale after the Hoffenheim shambles against a Fulham team whose remarkable run has put them in touching distance of a first European final.

The Dutchman, who arrived in Hamburg together with former coach Martin Jol from Tottenham Hotspur, can hardly have been given a stiffer task in his first game in charge.

On the day he took over he was given the news that striker Tunay Torun had suffered a ligament injury and was ruled out of Thursday's match.

It is the second time a Bundesliga team has done this during the season though and Fulham will best be on their guard.

In December, Stuttgart sacked coach Markus Babbel three days before their final Champions League group game against Unirea Urziceni. They won 3-1, qualified for the second round, were given a plum draw against Barcelona, and have jumped from 16th to sixth in the table.

COMPACT GROUND

Fulham's hopes of progress could rest on the state of Bobby Zamora's Achilles as the striker fights for fitness ahead of the second leg at Craven Cottage, a compact ground tucked on the banks of the River Thames in west London.

Having scored just one goal in their last five matches - including last week's goalless first leg - Fulham desperately need their top scorer fit and firing if they are to return to the German city for the May 12 final against either Liverpool or Atletico Madrid.

Zamora has scored 19 goals this season, including strikes in both legs of the quarter-final victory over German champions VfL Wolfsburg, having set Fulham on their way in the tournament when they beat Vetra of Lithuania 3-0 away back in July 2009.

"I have had an Achilles tendon problem for a long time," Zamora said after limping off the pitch after an hour against Hamburg. "It has been niggling at me for a bit now and I just did a little bit too much but I really hope to play next Thursday. I am desperate to be part of that."

Manager Roy Hodgson, on the brink of one his greatest achievements in his long and travelled coaching career, was less than confident.

"He's having treatment and I'm hoping he'll be ready for Thursday, but I'm not confident," Hodgson told the club's website.

Zamora missed Sunday's trip to Everton when Hodgson rested most of his first-choice players. Paul Konchesky, Aaron Hughes, Danny Murphy, Brede Hangeland, Dickson Etuhu, Damien Duff, Zoltan Gera and Simon Davies were all fit but left out of the matchday squad and should return on Thursday.

Probable teams:

Fulham: 1-Mark Schwarzer; 4-John Pantsil, 18-Aaron Hughes, 5-Brede Hangeland, 3-Paul Konchesky; 16-Damien Duff, 20-Dickson Etuhu, 13-Danny Murphy, 29-Simon Davies; 25-Bobby Zamora, 11-Zoltan Gera.

Hamburg: 1-Frank Rost, 6-Dennis Aogo, 5-Joris Mathijsen, 17-Jerome Boateng, 20-Guy Demel; 14-David Jarolim, 21-Jonathan Pitroipa, 8-Ze Roberto, 13-Robert Tesche; 22-Ruud van Nistelrooy, 9-Paolo Guerrero.

Referee: Cuneyt Çakyr (Turkey)