Fulham's Kasami celebrates scoring against Sunderland during their English Premier League soccer match at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland

Sunderland 0 – Fulham 1: Kasami gives Fulham away win as Cottagers survive (Video)

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Fulham manager Martin Jol had his hands tied, being forced to use two substitutes on injuries, but his side pulled out a solid result thanks to Pajtim Kasami’s header at the start of the second half from the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland started the better side early, with their midfielders pressing hard and earning lots of possession in the beginning.  Cabral fired in a searching shot in the first five minutes.  Fulham found its footing slowly though, and by the 15th minute the two teams were going back and forth.

Injury-prone Kieran Richardson did his hamstring in the 18th minute, and Matthew Briggs came on to replace the injured left-back.

Cabral again fancied a shot from outside the top of the box in the 26th minute but it fizzed wide right. The Black Cats regained control of possession late in the first half, but Jozy Altidore was still working to get involved. He found himself an opening in the box in the 32nd minute but Jack Colback’s cross flew just barely over his head and was dealt with by the Fulham defense.

Altidore in the second half continued to try and link up with Emanuele Giaccherini.  The Italian came over to Sunderland from Juventus, and put the ball into some dangerous areas for Jozy.  If the two can get on the same page, it will make the Sunderland attack very dangerous this season.

source: Getty ImagesFulham finally opened the scoring in the 52nd minute when Pajtim Kasami locked onto a corner from Damien Duff and struck it past Kieren Westwood.  Kasami beat Sunderland defender Valentin Roberge in the air to get a head on the ball far post.

Sunderland responded well after the goal, and began to pepper the Fulham box. Altidore won a free kick on the edge of the box after a foul by Fulham captain Brede Hangeland, but Adam Johnson put the free kick into the wall.

Martin Jol would have been hoping to be able to bring on Darren Bent late to add some punch, but instead goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg collided with Altidore and hurt his shoulder, forcing Jol to use his third and final substitute on his brand new goalkeeper.

Sunderland continued to flood the Fulham box late but Johnson put a great cross wide with his head as regulation time wound down.

It’s an important 3 points for Fulham. The squad has holes, and they’ve struggled away from home in the past, so Jol will be pleased with their bend-but-don’t-break attitude. It’s the Cottagers’ fifth consecutive clean sheet on opening day. Good luck to Sunderland from here.  Its next seven fixtures include Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Swansea.

Lineups

Sunderland: Kieren Westwood; Ondrej Celustka (Connor Wickham, 83′), Jack Colback, John O’Shea, Valentin Roberge; Cabral, Sebastain Larsson, Adam Johnson, Emanuele Giaccherini; Jozy Altidore, Stephane Sessegnon (Ji Dong-Won, 72′).

Fulham: Maarten Stekelenburg (David Stockdale, 76′); Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Sascha Riether, Kieran Richardson (Matthew Briggs, 20′); Steve Sidwell, Derek Boateng (Giorgis Karagounis, 65′), Adel Taarabt, Damien Duff; Pajtim Kasami, Dimitar Berbatov.

Reaction

Martin Jol: “Our game is a passing game and if you’re not brave enough to earn the right to play football you struggle a bit. Although we struggled, we still ground out a great result, that’s fantastic.”

Jol: “Most of the time last year we had more possession than the opponent and today we couldn’t do that, so we need to work on a few things and hopefully can do that in the next couple of days.”

Paolo Di Canio: “We weren’t really ferocious. We have to be nasty in terms of our football. I don’t want to say we had a clear identity but a big part of the puzzle is clear. I think we did well but it’s obvious we can do much better.”

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.