Zat on Zagreb

Thursday 10 October 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

Has some absurd administrative cock-up occurred that has seen Fulham entered into the Croatian domestic Cup rather than the UEFA Competition that everyone had been expecting? Instead of glitzy trips to some of the hot-spots of Europe, the Whites find themselves in need of season-tickets to the former Yugoslavia, with a second successive draw against a Croatian side - this time Dinamo Zagreb.

Make no mistake though, this is not going to be an easy tie - Zagreb are currently top of the Croatian League (Hajduk Split are second), and progressed to this round of the Cup by beating Zalaegerszegi TE 9-1 on aggregate. ZTE, you may remember, are the Hungarian team who defeated Manchester United in this season's Champion's League.

But the Whites should know what to expect after coming through a potentially tricky tie against Hajduk in the last round, and young defender Zat Knight, although disappointed that Fulham haven't drawn one of the big European names, says that the team are looking forward to the game.

"In the first round it was a tough game in Croatia," he said, "So we've got a bit of a taste for what it's going to be like. Everyone's going to be really up for it, and it's nice to be playing away first - that means we can be winners in front of our fans! It makes a big difference playing that way round - if you are losing, having the crowd behind you really helps.

"Every game in this competition is a big game, and the boys are just relishing each match and the fact that we're actually in Europe. It's not a bad draw for us; we don't know much about Zagreb and I suppose some people will say that it was the kindest draw for us in our group, but I think it's always nice to play against the bigger, more well known teams, so that you can test yourselves against them."

Knight is in the unusual position of having played almost as many international and European games as he has Premiership fixtures. It's a wonderful experience for a young player, and he acknowledges how beneficial it has been for him, and also what Tigana has done for him.

"Playing in Europe is not that different from playing internationals," said Knight, "But when you play Premiership football, that gives you an idea what to expect anywhere. What the top players are good at is slowing the game down; it's a different style of football completely, a different technique, so you do need to approach the game a bit differently. But it's been a good experience for me and I hope I can use that experience to good effect here at Fulham.

"I'm very pleased with the way the season has gone for me. All I want is to be playing in the side week-in, week-out; the gaffer's given me a chance and I'm trying to take it with both hands and hope that I can stay in the side.

"Everyone knows that West Brom were interested in me in the summer, but the gaffer showed belief in me by keeping me at Fulham, and I appreciate what he's done for me."

And what about Fulham this season? Knight was optimistic that the Whites can keep this current run going.

"The boys are relishing playing at Loftus Road," he said, "Everyone's enjoying it. There's a great spirit around the club at the moment and hopefully we can keep it going. We've got the two week break now, so everyone can recharge their batteries - we've got Man United then, so hopefully we can get a good result."