Perennial losers Atletico uncomfortable with favourites tag against 'unknown' Fulham

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The first job of Atlético fans when realising their away goals-loving team had snuck through to a European final was not to pinch themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming, but to jam their hands into blenders to be 100% certain.

After all, this was something that not happened to the club for 24 years.

The second was to learn who the heckety-heck “Fuuul’ham” were and, more importantly, how to pronounce their opponent’s name.

But if anyone out there in blogland is having a chuckle at foreign types struggling with peculiar English pronunciation then just try ordering a train ticket to Valladolid after four pints or discussing César’s Azpiliceuta’s call up to Vicente del Bosque’s 30-man Spain squad and see how you like them apples, Buster.

Although the average footie fan in Spain is quite familiar with the big knobs of the English game (and we’re not talking Dion Dublin here, thank you very much) - and a little too familiar with the defensive stylings of Rafa Benítez to welcome him back to la Liga in hurry - Fulham is a more unknown concept full of obscure, peculiar players.

But then again, that was probably the same situation in England at the start of the season.

Since the end of the semi-final stage, the Spanish press have been familiarising themselves with Wednesday’s opponents and began by digging into the club’s recent history by profiling Mohamed Al-Fayed and listing where the mind-boggling €285 million spent on the squad has gone since he jumped onboard the then (old) second division club.

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The final stage of the process was for Marca to dial up anyone and everyone Spanish playing in the Premier League to probe them thoroughly for their thoughts. And every footballer-in-English-exile came back with the same praise for a side that is considered solid and hardworking - two features that Atlético Madrid can rarely be accused of.

“If they game doesn’t open up early, it could be a 1-0, 0-0, or 0-1. I don’t see a lot of goals” says Pepe Reina whetting everyone’s appetite for the encounter.

Cesc Fabregas looks like he is in Fulham’s closet with his feeling that “it’s true that Atlético have more experience and are going into the game that little bit better, but Fulham have made an enormous leap in quality and have incredible confidence.”

“Fulham areorganisedin their style and give away very few goals,” notes Spain’s forgotten man, Mikel Arteta. “They’re good at set-plays and tough to beat when they get ahead.”

A recent arrival to England, Michel Salgado, goes into even more detail by observing that “for the most part, Fulham always try to play with the ball. Then again, they have an alternative in playing it long to Zamora.”

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“If the Atleti players go into the final thinking that they are favourites as everyone in the media says they are, then things will go badly for them. Fulham is a side that can win or turn a game in five minutes.”

And with that final comment, the former Real Madrid right-back has nailed the problem for Atlético Madrid ahead of what could be a humdinger in Hamburg. The Rojiblancos are used to being the unfancied underdogs, the accident waiting to happen, the plucky losers looking for a break in life. That’s what carried them through the final two rounds against Valencia and Liverpool.

Atleti are not accustomed to being the scary side from Spain...the slayer of civilizations...the bogeymen from Iberia...the favourites. And the sensation in Wednesday’s press is that this is a mindset that they are going to have to get used to and quickly if they are to crush the Cottagers.

i“This is a chance to change the perception people have about Atlético and that Atlético have about themselves,” writes Santiago Segurola in Marca. “Atlético must rid themselves of their fatalism,” notes Wednesday’s editorial highlighting the biggest problem for the Rojiblancos.

If the dark, doubt-filled side of Atleti takes to the field against Fulham, then the team will surely lose. But if the Atlético that beat Barça and Liverpool and boasts the talent of Kun and Forlán turns up, then the players should put an end to fourteen forgettable years without a trophy for  the perennial losers of la Liga.

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