Sunday evening, the first game of the Shahid Khan era was under way as Fulham kicked off their pre-season tour of Costa Rica. Although not a competitive game, it was nice to see Fulham win so comfortably in a positive start to the 2013/14 season. The excitement of the new season was felt not only by long serving Fulham supporters, but also new supporters thanks to a new overseas friendship with the Jacksonville Jaguars supporters all united by Fulham FC’s new custodian, Shahid Khan. In what is a homecoming tour for Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, the captain of the Costa Rican national team started the game on the bench along with debutants to be Maarten Stekelenburg, Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng. Also making their debuts in the game were u21 regulars Lasse Vigen Christensen and Chris David.
Fulham boss Martin Jol used 22 of his 26 man squad on Sunday evening making sure most of the players received some form of game time and went on to comment after the game “First priority is to get the players fit and to get their rhythm, another priority is not to lose because we don’t want to lose, and of course tactically you always work to try to get your own shape and your own system.” Not only were Fulham able to improve their fitness, they provided us to a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining 90 minutes of football.
The first half, bar Sascha Riether and last season’s top scorer and player of the season Dimitar Berbatov, featured a team of players with a point to prove, players who on paper are not likely to start next season but had a chance to show what they can do and express what they can provide to Martin Jol’s side. The defence of David Stockdale in goal shielded by a back four of Sascha Riether, Philippe Senderos, Aaron Hughes and John Arne Riise were rarely challenged; any shot Cartagines had on goal was either handled comfortably by David Stockdale or went wide of the target.
The first 45 minutes featured a midfield of Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell, Giorgos Karagounis and young Mesca. Some of you may know that Steve Sidwell isn’t my favourite player at the club, and as far as I’m concerned he justified this opinion with a pretty shoddy 70 minutes in which he displayed his extremely limited technical ability. The bright spark of the midfield in the first period of play was 20 year old Guinea-Bissau born winger Buomesca Tue Na Bangna. Simply known as Mesca, the winger provided the team with an outlet of pace, direct running and skill showing his ability to be a full back’s nightmare. Hopefully, Mesca’s knee will be kind to him this season after having his season last year ruined by a ruptured ACL.
The first half was lit up by the superb performance of Switzerland u21 international Pajtim Kasami; everything good for Fulham in the first 45 went through Kasami, who showed his skill on the ball and his ability as a footballer. Supported by many, and maligned by others since arriving at Fulham, it must be remembered that Kasami is 10 months younger than Alex Kacaniklic and should not be written off, especially after his showing on Sunday. Minutes before his assist, Pajtim Kasami showed strong running and impeccable skill with the ball at his feet as he assisted John Arne Riise only for the Norwegian to skew wide. He created the first goal for Fulham in the Shahid Khan era with great movement towards the by line before nicely cutting in and playing a ball across to Dimitar Berbatov for an opportunity the Bulgarian doesn’t miss.
A positive with the first half performance was possibly the lack of emphasis we put on Dimitar Berbatov, he didn’t receive the ball as frequently as he was at times last season. Displaying his good touch at times, Berbatov wasn’t becoming the only plan for Fulham as it seemed last season. Positive words must be spoken about John Arne Riise’s performance as he bombed up and down in the first 45 minutes than he did for the whole of last season! He was getting high up the pitch and providing Mesca with valuable support and created the first chance of the game with an absolutely perfect cross to Dimitar Berbatov which needed a good save from the Cartagines keeper. If this is a sign of things to come from Riise, his hard work in Miami is really paying off. His strong running prompted a tackle inside the box and Dimitar Berbatov slotted, as expected, calmly into the bottom right hand corner for the second goal of the game.
After a positive first half, Martin Jol rang the changes and brought on 8 players, including the first Fulham appearances for Maarten Stekelenburg, Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng. Also making an appearance were Brede Hangeland, Kieran Richardson, Ashkan Dejagah back from injury, Alex Kacaniklic, Bryan Ruiz and Hugo Rodellega. This left Sascha Riether and Steve Sidwell as the only players not to be changed. Fulham started slower in the second half and couldn’t seem to enter the same rhythm in which the XI from the first half could. However, some players still managed to stand out most noticeably Derek Boateng. He showed everything I expected and more. Fulham’s very own Daddy Cool ran around the pitch tackling anyone who had the ball whilst showing a very comfortable passing range he kept the ball ticking and his highlight for me was a dreadlock flick in a break of play, Daddy Cool could prove a very good acquisition for Fulham FC.
Again, Fulham’s defence was rarely tested and I personally cannot remember a clear chance Cartagines managed to create making it difficult to judge Venezuelan Fernando Amorebieta on his debut. However Maarten Stekelenburg made some comfortable saves to keep Fulham from conceding though nothing was really testing him. I believe it would be unfair to judge Ashkan Dejagah especially since this was his first game since his injury in early April but like Damien Duff, you couldn’t remember if he was actually on the pitch or not.
Another bright spark in the Fulham side was Alex Kacaniklic who was beating his full back time and time again showing no signs of a peak in development and I for one am looking forward to seeing him next season and watching him be hopefully even better. There was a worry earlier in the transfer window that Tottenham Hotspur was sniffing around the bright young Swede but hopefully the presence of Shahid Khan will help us keep hold of him for at least a few more years.
It was written that Bryan Ruiz would notch a goal and he finished the scoring after being picked out by Hugo Rodallega. The Colombian’s striker picked out Bryan with a cross who took one touch before volleying on the swivel. This was greeted with great joy by the Costa Rican commentator. A really well taken goal was one of the few chances for Fulham in the second half.
Because of the sheer amount of players that took part in the game on Sunday, it’s difficult to speak in depth about their performances, so to finish off my match report on the first game of the 2013/14 season, I will do some player ratings:
David Stockdale: 6/10
Maarten Stekelenburg: 6/10
Sascha Riether: 6/10
Lasse Vigen Christensen: N/A (Didn’t have enough time to make an impact)
Philippe Senderos: 6/10
Aaron Hughes: 6/10
Brede Hangeland: 6/10
Fernando Amorebieta: 6/10
John Arne Riise: 7.5/10
Kieran Richardson: 6/10
Damien Duff: 5/10
Ashkan Dejagah: 5/10
Steve Sidwell: 5/10
Giorgos Karagounis: 5/10
Derek Boateng: 7/10
Chris David: 6.5/10
Alex Kacaniklic: 6/10
Pajtim Kasami: 8/10 and my man of the match.
Bryan Ruiz: 6.5/10
Dimitar Berbatov: 7/10
Hugo Rodallega: 6/10