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Chris Coleman’s young Fulham team suffered a narrow defeat in their penultimate pre-season friendly against a star-studded Roma side in Austria tonight.

Louis Saha’s magnificent long range effort cancelled out a clever chip from Antonio Cassano, but the Whites were denied late in the second half by a Davide Bombardini winner.

Coleman opted for experience in the first half, beginning with a strong line-up. In-form striker Facundo Sava started on the bench and was replaced by French international Steve Marlet, who also scored in Fulham’s 4-1 win over Voitsburg on Tuesday. The Premiership side were under pressure from the start as Roma’s dangerous front line of Totti, Delvecchio and Cassano looked to snatch an early goal.

Edwin van der Sar was called into action early on, throwing himself at Totti to block the Italian forward’s first time shot after Cassano had fashioned an opening down the left. Fulham’s first chance fell to Marlet, but his low effort was turned around the post by Pelizzoli after 12 minutes. Soon, Roma were breaking forward again and Martin Djetou needed to be alert to foil a clever interchange between Totti and Cassano.

Fulham’s French connection nearly broke the deadlock midway through the first half. Excellent pressure from Marlet meant he easily cut out a defensive clearance from Romanian international Christian Chivu, but Steed Malbranque’s shot was blocked by the recovering Chivu. It would prove to be a costly miss.

After 26 minutes, Totti found some space forty yards from goal and chipped an intelligent pass over the Fulham back line and into the path of Cassano, who raced past Dean Leacock. Van der Sar rushed from his line in a desperate bid to narrow the angle, but the Italian cleverly lifted his shot over the goalkeeper and over the line, depsite Leacock’s best attempts to clear the ball.

However, Roma’s lead lasted barely a minute. With the Italian side still celebrating their opener, Louis Saha skipped away from a couple of defenders and drove a fierce left-footed curler into the top corner. It was a moment of class, that reminded many of Saha’s breathtaking arrival in the Premiership at Old Trafford two seasons ago.

Fulham survived a scare early in the second half when a defensive mix-up gave Roma a great chance to retake the lead. Sylvain Legwinski’s casual backpass was intercepted by Totti, but the Italian international could not find the necessary finish. Fulham might have gone in front themselves when Saha dispossessed Zabina and sprinted towards goal, but a masterful covering tackle from Walter Samuel blocked the Frenchman’s shot.

At the other end, Totti spurned another glorious chance. He was sent clean through by Chivu, despite looking a good couple of yards offside, but was too casual in his attempt to beat Maik Taylor and the Northern Irish goalkeeper stood up well to make a smart save. Fulham began to keep the ball better and should have scored a second with nineteen minutes remaining when Jon Harley and Lee Clark worked an opening down the left flank. The left-back crossed for Clark, whose shot was deflected wide.

Roma finished the stronger after Coleman introduced a full compliment of youngsters and it was no surprise when the Italians grabbed a late winner. Midfielder Davide Bombardini, on as a late substitute, found some space and drove a low shot beyond Taylor to clinch the victory.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar (Taylor 45); Leacock (Rehman 45), Bonnissel (Harley 45), Goma (Knight 60), Djetou (Hudson 60); Legwinski (Buari 75), Inamoto (Green 60), Clark, Malbranque (Hammond 75); Saha (Hayles 75), Marlet (Boa Morte 45; Sava 75).

GOAL: Saha (26).

AS ROMA (4-4-2): Pelizzoli; Panucci, Candela, Chivu, Samuel; Tommasi (Dacourt 45), Guigou (Zebina 45), Lima (Bombardini 60), Delvecchio; Totti, Cassano.

GOALS: Cassano (25), Bombardini (88).

ATTENDANCE: 4,000