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Pantsil relishes improved status
Published : 11 May 2010 12:11:00
John Pantsil believes Fulham have earned the right to be known as one of the biggest clubs in the land thanks to their Europa League exploits. Fulham will end the week with their first major piece of silverware if they overcome Atletico Madrid in Wednesday night's final in Hamburg. A win over the Spanish side would cap a memorable season for the Cottagers, who started their 18-match campaign back in July with a qualifying win over Lithuanian side FK Vetra. Roy Hodgson's side have had to dodge ash clouds, deal with injuries to key players, and overcome the odds to knock out the likes of Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and Wolfsburg to reach the final. Pantsil, who joined Fulham in 2008 when Hodgson had just steered the club to safety, believes the Cottagers will get some well-deserved recognition thanks to the run - and has backed his team-mates to pull off another shock win against Atletico. "When I came to the club I knew they'd do well, I knew the club played good football but to get to the Europa League final after beating who we've beaten is just incredible," the Ghana defender said. "We have come a long way in this tournament. We started all the way back in Lithuania in July, that wasn't easy, then we went to Bulgaria and then we had to go to Russia and Italy so it has been a very long journey for us. "Now no-one can call Fulham a small club because of what we have done. "Now we have got this far after working so hard that we are not going to let this opportunity go easily. We deserve to win it." Pantsil is a doubt for the game after being substituted in the second half of Sunday's 4-0 loss at Arsenal with a thigh injury. Should Pantsil overcome the knock, his appearance at the final would represent a remarkable comeback for the 28-year-old, who thought his season was over when he picked up a cruciate ligament injury in Fulham's west-London derby with Chelsea in December. The right-back returned to action last month after successful surgery, which has put him back in contention for a place in Ghana's World Cup squad. He is now determined to make up for lost time by guiding Fulham to glory. "When I got injured I thought I was going to miss out on the World Cup, The African Nations Cup and the rest of the season so now I'm happy that I'm back," the former West Ham man said. "When I had to sit out I was feeling terrible. It was frustrating sitting on the sidelines watching my colleagues playing and doing so well. "It was strange because I was happy that they were winning though because I knew that if they continued then I would be able to come back and play towards the end of the European campaign. "I told myself that I had to work hard just in case that when I got back I would be able to play in the competition so I think I have come back at a good and exciting time." Hodgson has two back-up options in Chris Baird and Stephen Kelly if Pantsil fails to overcome his injury, but the 62-year-old will be more concerned about the fitness of key duo Damien Duff and Bobby Zamora. Duff (calf) and Zamora (Achilles) are both doubts while Brede Hangeland (knee) and Bjorn Helge Riise (stomach) picked up knocks during Sunday's defeat. The Fulham boss will give an update on the fitness of his squad when he holds his pre-match press conference at the Hamburg Arena later on Tuesday.