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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 18 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Feb 16, 2007

Diop determined to prove his worth

Papa Bouba Diop is determined not to waste his second chance at Fulham as he prepares for Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round clash with Tottenham.

The towering Senegal midfielder is back in favour at Craven Cottage after being frozen out for almost two months, during which it looked like he would be sold to Wigan or Portsmouth.

But the 29-year-old, who was also troubled by a thigh injury during that time, returned as a substitute at the start of the month, brilliantly setting up striker Brian McBride's winner against Newcastle before starting at Bolton last Sunday.

Diop, whose bite could be vital against Spurs, with skipper Michael Brown ruled out through suspension, is ready to put the frustration of his spell on the sidelines behind him.

He told Fulham's official website: 'I'm sure it was frustrating for a lot of people when I was out. I know the manager was frustrated but, believe me, nobody was more frustrated than me.

'I wanted to be playing regularly and I am always at my happiest when I'm fit and available to play. It was always playing on my mind when I was injured.

'Unfortunately, injuries are something that you have to accept in football - they are a common feature of the game.'

Diop has now returned to a midfield bristling with competition for places.

The January transfer window saw manager Chris Coleman swell his midfield ranks with the additions of American Clint Dempsey, Wales star Simon Davies and Russian ace Alexei Smertin.

And although Smertin, who made his Fulham debut as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat at Bolton is particularly likely to challenge him for a place in the starting line-up, Diop insists: 'He is a great signing, a very experienced player.

'I played against him in France when I was at Lens and he was at Bordeaux. Then I played against him when he was at Charlton. He is a very good player and I look forward to playing with him.

'More competition for places is great. You always have to compete and I thrive on competition. It is something that I have become used to. Having good players around you spurs you on.'

Diop's dream is to run out at the new Wembley.

He said: 'As a kid I always used to watch the final at Wembley. And now that the final is going to the played in a fantastic new stadium, it's an extra motivation.

'I want to do everything possible to make sure that we get there.'

Meanwhile, new signing Smertin will call upon his cup experience against Tottenham.

Despite suffering disappointment on his Fulham debut last weekend, the Russian is delighted to be involved with the squad after building up his match-fitness and is looking forward to Sunday's challenge.

He said: 'I played 30 minutes last weekend but unfortunately we lost. I haven't played many games in the FA Cup but I won the Carling Cup with Chelsea and, when I was at Portsmouth, we beat Liverpool in an FA Cup replay.

'I have won four cups in my career: the Carling Cup for Chelsea, the French Cup for Bordeaux and two cups for Lokomotiv, my previous Russian team. In total, four cups.

'I have experience in winning cups. Maybe it suits my type of football. It is like a play-off and cup games are usually dynamic matches.'