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.”

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.