Good to be back

Thursday 29 August 2002

Having played in almost every major football tournament at both national and international level, Edwin van der Sar is clearly no stranger to the big occasion.

So whilst the likes of Zat Knight and Rufus Brevett were still, to a certain extent, cutting their teeth against Signori and co. on Tuesday night, Edwin exuded his typically calming yet intense influence.

It was, therefore, somewhat understandable to see the big stopper eagerly rushing out of his area to give advice during the various stoppages in play. If there ever was a team that epitomised the traits of the Italian game, surely Bologna would be strong contenders to fill that role.

Ever the masters of the strategic stoppage in play, the visiting side certainly did their best to frustrate Fulham. Something that manager, Jean Tigana was well aware of as he spoke after the match.

He said: "I explained that my players needed to keep calm and play football, it's not possible to fight against an Italian team because they try to cheat all the time."

The ease with which the players managed to change their focus from that which is usually required in the domestic game was a credit to their flexibility.

Whilst football at a European level is by no means a sin-free zone, many supporters were clearly frustrated with referee Massimo Busacca's apparent whistle-blowing addiction. Incidents that were normally part-and-parcel of a standard Premiership encounter were frequently rewarded with a peep from the referee's whistle.

Some will say that it is the fans, along with players, who also have to make that adaptation to the European style of football. However, the flak that Signori drew from the crowd whilst being stretchered off the pitch certainly added to the intimidating atmosphere.

Whilst understanding the jubilation at qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the first time in the Club's history, van der Sar was quick to make the point that Fulham will not be making up the numbers as European new-boys.

"Yes, we are in the UEFA Cup but you can still go out in the first round and then you're left with nothing, you have to keep it in proportion," said Edwin.

"It means a lot to me to be back in Europe because these are the games you want to play in and I love to travel to play against teams that you never normally face, so I hope we get a nice draw now.

"We have played eight games in the Intertoto Cup and two in the league and we haven't lost yet so things are going well.

"This year we have already scored three or four goals in the last few minutes of games and that is important. It's a good quality and we are getting more luck than last year. I hope it stays with us but you mustn't get too excited about it."

Wise words indeed, but with the goals flowing more freely than last season and the prospect of European football awaiting us. Keeping calm is something that's going to be very hard to do.