Devastated Hodgson salutes Fulham's troops
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson could not hide his disappointment after the Cottagers went down 2-1 in the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid thanks to a 116th-minute goal from Diego Forlan.
Forlan had given the Spanish side the lead before Simon Davies equalised soon after and the game appeared to be heading for penalties before the former Manchester United striker pounced.
"I couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine we would get here when we started,'' Hodgson admitted. "But unfortunately that doesn't help. Having been here and acquitted ourselves so well, you feel we could have taken a further step.
"It doesn't matter how much comfort I try to find, it is difficult to find joy or enthusiasm because a great performance has gone unrewarded. I thought the game was heading for penalties. I know they are a lottery but we fancied our chances. Then Forlan popped up with a second and we had no time to recover.
"Everyone wants to finish first but at this level of achievement, after 63 games, second is something we can be very proud of as well.''
Hodgson also moved to reassure Fulham fans he will still be in charge next season.
"I have never given my future a moment's thought,'' Hodgson said. "I have been committed all the time I have been with the club. I still have a contract and, as far as I know, this is where I shall be."
Hodgson was loath to describe the Cottagers as the best squad he has ever coached, given his long and illustrious career, but he did pay tribute to their spirit.
"They are certainly best in terms of attitude, desire, organisation and commitment,'' he said. "I wouldn't like to say the best because that is negative to other squads I have had.
Goalscorer Davies admitted he might appreciate the enormity of the team's achievements once defeat has sunk in but it was still too raw immediately after the game.
He said: "Getting so close to penalties we were hanging on a little bit. We were hanging on and looking to try our luck there. It's a shame to get so close but once we get home after a few days we'll feel like we achieved something but now it is very painful.
"Scoring in a big final I'll be very proud in years to come but now it is really hard. We were so close but we must congratulate Madrid. They have every reason to be very proud of the season and tonight even if they are not lifting the trophy.
"We wanted to win and that shone through in everything we did out there. Everyone realised we gave our best. I thought we kept Forlan and (Sergio) Aguero pretty quiet considering how good these two players are, but we didn't keep them quiet quite long enough.''
After scoring an extra-time winner against Liverpool in the semi-final as well, Forlan has certainly had a lot of fun at England's expense in the competition.
"I don't know whether people in England are looking at me in a different way, but I am playing well and I am enjoying it,'' said Forlan, who will be part of the Uruguay squad at this summer's World Cup. "Manchester United were a really good team, with great players, but it was difficult for me to play.
"I spoke to Sir Alex and told him that I wanted to leave to try and get regular football. That is why I am so happy at Atletico. We are bringing a title back to Spain. Hopefully tomorrow we can dress Madrid in red.''
Atletico boss Quique Sanchez Flores was ecstatic with the victory.
"We are thrilled to have won a very tough final and a very difficult competition," he said on UEFA.com. "It is a huge satisfaction - Atlético are a big, big club and we have made thousands of people happy tonight. It is the players' moment, it is their time to celebrate. This is a massive occasion in the history of the club.
"This Europa League final was a big opportunity for our team, but it was never going to be easy and when you do manage to cross the line it is a fabulous feeling. Fulham are a very well-organised side and they made it very difficult for us to find that second goal. It was like we played two matches against that defence of theirs.
"They were great opponents but I would say that overall we deserved the victory. I am really proud of my players. They deserve all the credit because they were able to overcome a complicated situation. I can only stress my admiration for the work they have put in to turn our campaign around.
"It has been a long, hard season and that makes this success even more special. There are a lot of emotions that come out after an achievement like this. But I would like to dedicate this triumph to my four children and to Atlético fans everywhere."