A brace from Dimitar Berbatov and a fine finish from the homecoming hero Bryan Ruiz saw Fulham begin their pre-season tour of Costa Rica with a comfortable victory over C.S. Cartaginés in San José tonight.
Martin Jol married experience with experimentation by naming a starting line-up full of familiar names, such as Aaron Hughes, Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell and Berbatov, whilst offering opportunities to the returning David Stockdale and Pajtim Kasami, who both spent much of last season out on loan, as well as the promising winger Mesca, who saw much of his last campaign disrupted by injury. Fulham were on the front foot from the off with Berbatov coming close to opening the scoring inside the first five minutes but goalkeeper Alfaro did well to keep out the Bulgarian’s goalbound header from a John Arne Riise cross.
Stockdale, expected to be the understudy to new signing Maarten Stekelenburg this season, had to be alert at the other end to keep out a low drive from Oliveria and, in some lively opening exchanges, Kasami made the most of his opportunity to catch Jol’s eye. The Swiss midfielder’s marauding run created the room for Riise to fire at goal, but the left back dragged his shot disappointingly wide. Stockdale produced a superb save to claw away a far-post header from Montero, before Fulham took the lead ten minutes before the break.
A quick counter-attack saw Duff intelligently release Kasami down the Fulham left flank. The former Palermo midfielder skipped past a would-be tackler and his accurate cross was clinically converted by Berbatov. It was a lead Fulham’s expansive play merited and their adventure was further rewarded before the end of the first half. A typically robust run from Riise took the Norwegian defender into the Cartaginés penalty area and the referee had little option but to point to the spot when he was bundled over. Berbatov calmly converted the spot-kick with the minimum of fuss, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.
Jol made nine changes at half-time, giving Stekelenburg, Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng their Fulham debuts, although the changes initially seemed to disrupt the visitors’ rhythm. Two of the substitutes, Ruiz and Rodallega, combined cleverly to set up Alex Kacaniklic but the Swedish winger didn’t connect properly with his shot, which flew wide. Amorebieta, famous for kicking Lionel Messi in the head during his time in Spain, drew blood from an opponent with a mistimed challenge on the edge of the box – but Stekelenburg produced a superb reflex save to tip over the fierce free-kick from Felix Montoya.
Jol then gave Chris David a taste of first-team football as the Dutch midfielder, signed from FC Twente last January, replaced Steve Sidwell with twenty minutes left. The youngster’s cameo was impressive, with plenty of inventive passes, and he was unlucky not to mark his first Fulham appearance with a goal when his late snapshot was blocked at point-blank range by a defender. Fulham increased their lead through the most popular scorer of the evening, when Ruiz brilliantly controlled a deflected cross and swivelled to send a left-footed finish past the goalkeeper from close range.
Fulham might have had further goals as Hugo Rodallega screwed a shot into the side netting after a clever Kacaniklic pass left the Colombian with only the goalkeeper to beat, while Ashkan Dejagah, who looked lively on his first appearance since that untimely ankle injury against QPR, almost curled in an outstanding fourth from the edge of the box in the final minute.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Stockdale (Stekelenburg 45); Riether (Christensen 45), Riise (Richardson 45), Hughes (Amorebieta 45), Senderos (Hangeland 45); Karagounis (Boateng 45), Sidwell (David 70); Duff (Kacaniklic 45), Mesca (Dejagah 45), Kasami (Ruiz 45), Berbatov (Rodallega 45).
GOALS: Berbatov (35, pen 40), Ruiz (73).