Total concentration

Friday 19 April 2002

As someone once said, while the winners of the Cup semi-finals get involved in planning for their forthcoming big day, the losers have to make their own arrangements.

Flat would be the word to describe the mood at Fulham this week, understandably so, considering just how close the Whites came to realising a dream visit to Cardiff in May. The job of lifting any team after such a defeat will always be one of the most difficult things in football, and it has been made that much harder for manager Jean Tigana and his staff by the fact that so many of his players have been away on international duty this week.

A sombre Alain Goma spoke on Thursday about how difficult this week has been, but he also made it very clear that everyone is focussed on Leeds next Saturday and ensuring that the Whites are playing Premiership football at Loftus Road next season.

"It has been subdued," he said, "We had a day off straight after the game but this week hasn't been an easy one. There were international games in the week, perhaps fortunately I don't know, so there haven't been many of us here; it has been really quiet.

"It's up to the players to lift themselves, regardless of what the management might be doing. We aren't in a very good position in the League, so it's important that we get concentrated on that properly. The Cup and the league are different competitions, so we have to make sure we get our focus exactly right so that we can do well on Saturday.

"The overriding feeling we had on Sunday was one of disappointment. We were very close to getting to the Final, that game could have saved our season, got us into Europe and left everyone on a high. It's really a shame and we all feel that."

Fulham played well against Leeds earlier in the season, keeping Robbie Fowler quiet on his debut and taking a point that should arguably have been three. Goma insists that too much shouldn't be read into games played months ago and he also played down the fact that Leeds are currently going through something of an injury crisis.

"I haven't seem them play recently," he said, "But we know that they are a good side and that it is going to be another difficult game. What's important is that we have to keep going in the same way as we have been. We did well at Newcastle, and we did well against Chelsea really even though we didn't win, and we must keep playing with the same spirit.

"The fact that we did well against Leeds earlier in the season will give us confidence, but perhaps they weren't quite at their best then. I think they had been disrupted by the internationals that week, there had been the Australian game only a few days earlier, but really you have to say that every match is different.

"They do have some injuries now at the back, so perhaps that will be an opportunity for us to score some goals, but what's important is that we don't underestimate them. We must take the game very seriously."

For many, Alain Goma has been one of the outstanding defenders in the League this season, and must have gone very close to joining Steve Finnan in the PFA Premiership team of the year. Typically, the man himself plays down any suggestion of compliments.

"First of all," said Goma, "I am happy because I didn't suffer any major injuries this year. This was important for me because for the last few seasons I have been injured, and I haven't been able to play many games. As far as my own performances are concerned, I don't think I have been quite as consistent as I would have liked, but considering the amount of games I've played then it hasn't been too bad."

With the World Cup fast approaching, Goma would have been forgiven for thinking that he was in with a chance of making the trip to Japan and Korea despite the fact that he would be trying to get into one of the strongest teams in the world. It's an insight into the man that he hasn't let his focus on Fulham be disturbed by any distractions about what might or might not happen internationally.

"I don't think about it at all," he said, "My priority is to do well with the Club, and commit to making sure the future of Fulham is right, so I don't think about the National team. There are some good young talents coming through, defenders, and it is good for the National team to build and to think about the future with them."

The recent run of bad form shouldn't detract from how good Fulham have been defensively this season. For a team who are struggling the back four have been outstanding, and there's no doubt that if there had been a few more goals scored at the other end, they would be rightly being praised as one of the best defensive units in the League. Fundamental to that is Goma who has been a rock for Fulham. France could do a lot worse than relying on that rock when they start the defence of their World Cup in June.