Fulham Today Exclusive From Ian McCulloch
With a place in the last eight of the FA Cup up for grabs, this Saturday's game against First Division Walsall assumes an importance all of its own. The team are firmly focussed on doing well in the competition, but preparations for the match have been severely hampered by the fact that it has been international week. Players away with their respective teams have been arriving back in dribs and drabs, a situation far from ideal, but with Fulham's growing list of star players, one that is becoming commonplace.
Speaking on Thursday, assistant manager Christian Damiano said that the first thing to be done was to check whether any of the returning players had picked up any knocks or injuries. At this stage he was unaware of any new problems, but with players only returning on the Thursday, and the game being played Saturday lunchtime, the recovery period available was extremely short.
He made the point though, that this is the way football is these days, with matches coming very quickly one after the other.
"It is something we have to get used to when you play every three days," he said, "It's very concentrated, and when you take into account travelling time then it's very difficult. But it is the way things are, so everybody has to adapt to it."
If the management team of Jean Tigana and Damiano had had no first hand experience of playing lower league opposition in the Cup previously, that has certainly changed this season. After hanging on fortuitously at Wycombe and then overcoming their physical battering in the replay, Fulham went to Bootham Crescent knowing what to expect. Against a side ready to battle and on a pudding of a pitch, the team rolled up their sleeves and put in a thoroughly professional performance.
It might be a cliché, but in the Cup, as Damiano says, you take each game as it comes, there can be no other way.
"We expect to get a good result at Walsall - of course, we are in the Premiership and we are playing against a club in the First Division. But in any game, either team can win, and we know it will not be easy for us.
"We know this competition, we played in it last year and we know from our games this season that it is hard. In this sort of game it is perhaps more about the physical side of the play than technique, but at the end of the day, there is no difference for us between the FA Cup and the Premier League.
"The thing about football in England is that the spirit is so good, it doesn't matter what competition they are playing in, or who against, the players are always motivated. The spirit is fantastic in every match. League game or Cup game, it's the same.
"But you end up paying at the end of the match. Take the Blackburn game, it was hard, very intense, and that has an impact when you have only a small squad. It takes time to recover from that.
"When it is just one game, anybody can beat anybody else. When it is just that one match that counts, then everybody is equal. It doesn't matter that your players might be better than theirs, if they have more desire, then they can win. All it takes is a fantastic goal out of the blue, or a mistake by the referee or by a defender and you can be out."
"This is possible every time. You have to be prepared for this, but it is the beauty of the competition."
The possibility of being on the receiving end of a giant killing is a very real possibility. Damiano might not have experienced that at club level, but he has been through it on a grander stage.
"In France, I worked only with the National team," he said, "So I did not get involved in the Cup. But, of course it is the same with the National team when you play in the World Cup - when you lose you catch the next plane home! I was working with the team when France were eliminated by Bulgaria. It was a terrible blow to us, we were totally committed but ended up having to stay at home. It was an incredible situation - we lost in the last ten seconds of the game. But that's the way it goes - it is a sport and you have to accept that.
"So I know what it is like to lose when you should have won, and there is no next time to put it right. But when we won the World Cup and the European Cup, there were games when we could easily have lost. It was the same in the final against Italy - we could have lost. You can be lucky or unlucky, it's a very fine line, and you have to accept that that is what the competition is all about."
Hopefully, Fulham won't have to suffer the ignominy of that kind of upset just yet. But how confident is Damiano that Fulham can go all the way?
"It is very difficult to look at five games, and knowing that you are going to pick up injuries along the way, say how well you are going to do. You don't even know who you are going to play next, so you can't say that you have any chance to win the Cup!
"To win the Cup, you need luck. Of course you have to have a good strong team, but you need the luck. If we have that, and we stay focussed and we play as well as we can, then we can do well."
Fulham last played Walsall in the FA Cup in the 1961-62 season. After drawing their fourth round home tie 2-2 after being 2-0 down at half time, the Whites went on to win the replay 2-0. That year they were knocked out of the Cup in a semi-final replay by Burnley. Perhaps, with a little bit of the luck Christian Damiano was talking about, this is the year that we go one stage further.