Fulham bounced back from conceding an early goal to beat Athletic Bilbao in their first match in the Cup of Traditions tournament in Germany this afternoon.
Slavisa Jokanovic handed new Spanish goalkeeper Fabri his Fulham debut in a strong side for the first of the Whites’ two 45 minute matches at the Schauinsland-Reisen-Arena, but the new signing from Besiktas was picking the ball out of his out net with barely four minutes of the game gone. The Fulham defence were caught far too square and Athletic full-back Oscar de Marcos sent in a low cross that was expertly finished by Aritz Aduriz from close range.
Fulham were under the cosh for much of the opening half an hour, with their Spanish opponents looking likely to score every time they went forward. Bilbao believed they had made it 2-0 on eleven minutes when Cyrus Christie diverted a free-kick into his own net, but the Irish international was saved by the assistant referee, who ruled the goal out for offside. Fulham were struggling to get their usual fluent passing going, with Stefan Johansen shielding the back four for much of the opening exchanges and Tom Cairney appearing distinctly off-colour.
Jokanovic’s men struggled to get the ball into the feet of false nine Neeskens Kebano, but the lively Aboubakar Kamara, who was booked for a wild lunge midway through the first half, looked a real threat down the Fulham right. It was the French forward’s desire to take on his full back that created the Whites’ equaliser with just over ten minutes to go, as he drove deep into Bilbao territory, cut in from the right flank and fed Jean-Michael Seri. The Ivorian’s chipped pass was perfectly weighted for Kebano, who timed his run to perfection, and finished clinically from twelve yards out.
Kamara almost put Fulham in front a couple of minutes later when he surged on to an excellent through ball by Kebano, but with the angle against him, shot wildly when crossing to Ryan Sessegnon in the centre probably represented a better answer. But the former Amiens man didn’t allow that miss to dent his confidence – instead lashing in a quite stupendous second with two minutes to play. Kamara got the ball just outside the box, took a touch to get it out of his feet and beat Herrerin at his near post with a rasping low drive.
There was even time for Fulham to grab a third before the final whistle sounded. Sessegnon skipped into space down the left flank and fired in a low cross that was guided past his own goalkeeper by the unfortunate Yeray Alvarez. The Premier League new boys will now face Serie A side Fiorentina in the final – kicking off at 6pm British time – after they beat hosts MSV Duisburg on penalties in the first semi-final following a goalless draw.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Fabri; Christie, Le Marchand, Odoi, Ream; Seri, Johansen, Cairney; Kamara, R. Sessegnon, Kebano. Subs (not used): L. Ashby-Hammond, S. Sessegnon, McDonald, de la Torre, Schürrle, Fonte.
GOAL: Kebano (34), Kamara (43), Yeray (o.g. 45)
ATHLETIC BILBAO (4-2-3-1): Herrerin; De Marcos, Yeray, Nuñez, Balenziaga; Dani García, Beñat; Muniain, Susaeta, Córdoba; Aduriz. Subs (not used): Remiro, Sabin Merino, Lekue, Sancet, Villalibre, Andoni Lopez.
GOAL: Aduriz (4).