Fulham 1-0 Stoke City: Bent’s late strike seals win for Cottagers (video)

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The 1-0 win against Stoke at Craven Cottage on Saturday was their first since August 17 against Sunderland, and marked their first victory in six games.

But the home side looked anxious in possession throughout, however Bent’s late strike will ease some of the pressure on under-fire manager Martin Jol. Stoke battled hard, and took the game to the Cottagers after the interval but wasted several good chances.

In the end, Fulham made them pay.

With their first home success of the season, Fulham climb out of the relegation zone into 17th spot with seven points, while Stoke are in 16th.

Early on Fulham were composed as they looked to get Damien Duff in down the flanks. But as the half wore on, the home side grew more nervous as Stoke got going.

In the 9th minute there was a potential flash point right in front of the benches, as Pajtim Kasami needlessly flung his hand out at Stoke defender Erik Pieters off the ball. Contact was minimal, and Pieters overreacted, but Kasami was silly to lash out so petulantly.

In the 25th minute came a real turning point, as Johnathan Walters raced clear and Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta pulled him back right on the edge of the box. The linesman gave the foul and a free kick, as Stoke’s players protested for a penalty, but the foul looked to have taken place just inside the box. A let off for the home side.

And just moments later, Stoke came so close to taking a 1-0 lead as Sascha Riether cleared a header off the line following an out swinging corner.

Both sides battled away for most of the first half, with several careless passes adding to the building tension in Craven Cottage.

source: Getty Images
Fulham and Stoke battled it out down by the River Thames.

However, right on half time Bryan Ruiz was caught in the box as he tried to wriggle free. The home fans cried for a penalty, but referee Roger East turned their protests away. It looked like Marc Wilson tripped the Costa Rican attacker, as the Cottagers finished the half strongly.

At half time Kieran Richardson replaced Brede Hangeland, as Jol tried to change things around for Fulham with Amorebieta switching to center back.

Throughout the game Fulham’s players were severely lacking in confidence, as they searched for their first win in six games. Steve Sidwell worked hard in the Cottagers engine room, but was lambasted on several occasions by the home fans for giving the ball away. Although Fulham’s Macedonian winger Kasami looked a threat throughout.

Mark Hughes’ Stoke side were resilient and ground down Fulham with some late tackles and determined running, but both sides were reduced to speculative efforts.

One of which came from U.S. international Geoff Cameron, as his right-footed shot from distance was arrowing towards the top corner before being deflected wide for a corner.

From that set piece Stoke captain Robert Huth rose highest unmarked, but put his header over the bar as David Stockdale was left flapping. And soon after Oussama Assaidi’s cross found Stephen Ireland who volleyed just wide in the 68th minute.

That mini barrage of chances for Stoke breathed new life into the Potters, and in a few minutes Riether first cleared Huth’s header off the line, again, before running the length of the pitch and forcing Asmir Begovic into a fine save at his near post.

And moments later the game-winning goal arrived, as Bent was Fulham’s hero. The second half sub saw the ball ricochet to him in the box after Kasami’s shot in the 83rd minute and the striker, on-loan from Aston Villa, coolly slotted home to send Craven Cottage wild.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland (Richardson 46), Senderos, Amorebieta; Duff, Karagounis (Boateng 60), Sidwell, Ruiz; Kasami; Berbatov (Bent 66).

Stoke City: Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Pieters; Wilson (Whelan 59), Nzonzi, Ireland; Walters (Crouch 83), Arnautovic, Etherington (Assaidi 63).

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.