Fulham 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Pulsating Fulham done in by pair of Spurs wonder goals (video)

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In his first match at the helm of sinking Fulham, Rene Meulensteen’s tactics were simple. With a struggling back line, his best defense became an offense.

Fulham pressed Tottenham throughout, but it wasn’t to be on Meulensteens debut as Vlad Chiriches and Louis Holtby worldlies put Spurs through for all three points.

It’s a painful result for the Whites, their sixth straight defeat, but if nothing else it’s a promising display going forward under new management.

Andre Villas-Boas will be thanking his lucky starts his players were able to pull those goals out of the bag considering how wasteful they were in the first half.

Jermain Defoe had the match’s first good chance on goal, picking out a poor pass by Aaron Hughes and tracking Philippe Senderos back before firing on net and forcing a nice reaction save by Maarten Stekelenburg.

Fulham responded with a few spells in the Spurs box, one that nearly saw Alex Kacaniklic find Dimitar Berbatov but the Bulgarian striker couldn’t connect on the ball.  Giorgis Karagounis popped off a shot from a tight angle as well.

Then suddenly the game exploded open. Dimitar Berbatov nearly had the opener in the 22nd minute, but Hugo Lloris produced a world-class save as he got fingertips to the low volley.

Spurs then countered, and should have gone 1-up. Jermain Defoe made the run through the central midfield, and he found Paulinho in the box who brilliantly cut back twice to get by defenders. The move resulted in acres of space 5 yards away from a wide open goal, only to blaze well over with a shocking miss.

Back down the other end Fulham went, and on a corner Ashkan Dejagah touched a strong header just over the bar.

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New Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen brought an attacking style of play to Craven Cottage, using high pressure to cover for a below average back line.

Again Spurs had a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the 31st minute as Defoe was one-on-one with Senderos on the edge of the box.  His pass sliced through to Erik Lamela, but the Argentinian’s low drive went just past the post.

Stekelenburg made a brilliant save a minute later, as another Lamela shot takes a deflection but the keeper leaped to track it down.

Somehow, the game ended goalless at the halftime break, and in the second half Fulham’s defense continued to absorb some pressure.

The 53rd minute saw Defoe attempt a strong back-heel but men were there to collect, and Paulinho’s follow-up was blocked.

Then the breakthrough, a deserved goal for the game. Parker won the ball in the midfield, and a beautiful ball from Berbatov across the attacking third to Dejagah in plenty of space who finished professionally past Lloris.

The goal energized the home side even more, as Fulham put in by far the best performance of the season.  However, out of nothing Chiriches drew level, shocking everyone at the ground.

A corner was easily cleared in the 73rd minute well out, and the center back popped off a low volley from 35-yards out snuck past a crowd of players and fooled Stekelenburg for the equalizer.

Still, Fulham did not let down, and Berbatov nearly put them back in front on 80 minutes.

But a youngster was there to rescue all the points for Villas-Boas. German former U-21 international Louis Holtby cut out a bit of space some 30 yards out, and the ground was left pondering what could have been as Holtby’s wonder goal flew in.

Pajtim Kasami hit the post in added time, but all of Fulham’s hard work had been successfully been undone.

The Whites remain languished in 18th place, with just 10 points on the season.  Andre Villas-Boas will be delighted to see his club leap up to 6th place above Newcastle and Southampton.

GOALS:

Fulham – Dejagah 56′
Tottenham – Chiriches 73′; Holtby 82′

LINEUPS:

Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hughes, Senderos, Riise; Karagounis (Sidwell, 62′), Parker (Ruiz, 87′); Kacaniklic (Duff, 85′), Kasami, Dejagah; Berbatov.

Tottenham Hotspur – Lloris; Walker, Chiriches, Dawson, Vertonghen; Sandro (Chadli, 69′), Capoue (Holtby, 45′); Lennon, Paulinho, Lamela (Townsend, 78′); Defoe.

Report: Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

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The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.

VAR, Granqvist penalty lead Sweden over South Korea

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On Day 5 of the World Cup, VAR took center stage once again.

Referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador made the trek over to the video monitor in the 63rd minute after a no-call on a South Korea challenge in its own box, eventually reversing his decision and giving Sweden a penalty kick. Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up and sent his side in front before holding on for a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Monday morning in Nizhny Novgorod.

With the win, Sweden is joint top of Group F with Mexico on three points.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The key moment in the match took place in the 62nd minute, as Sweden’s Viktor Claesson got his foot on a loose ball first before South Korea’s Kim Min-woo went through Claesson to clear the ball away.

Aguilar initially waved the penalty claim away, but after about 20 seconds and a word from his assistant referees in his ear, Aguilar made the sign for VAR and ran over to take a second look. Around 20-30 seconds later, Aguilar reversed his decision, awarding the Swedes a penalty.

Granqvist, who plays his club football for FC Krasnodar in Russia, stepped up to the spot and with veteran poise, sent Cho Hyun-woo the wrong way for the 1-0 lead.

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Sweden had chances in the first half to get on the board. Marcus Berg was alone on goal in the 20th minute but Hyun-woo stuck out a leg and deflected it away. Another chance from Berg led to another save from Hyun-woo as he kept South Korea in the match.

Following Sweden’s goal, Sweden sat deep and allowed Heung-Min Son to find space on the wings, where South Korea set up numerous half-chances. But the final pass was just missing, and Sweden was able to clear the ball out of the box on numerous occasions, holding on to victory.

It’s a big win for Sweden, which will face an angry and pumped up Germany side coming off a loss in its first match. Meanwhile, South Korea looks to rebound against Mexico, with its spirits higher than the clouds.

It’s confirmed: Club Leon parts ways with Landon Donovan

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Landon Donovan’s four-month adventure in Mexico appears to be over.

Club Leon announced on Sunday that it had parted ways with Donovan, despite the 36-year-old having a contract through the end of the calendar year. Donovan made just eight appearances for Leon, with just one start, and failed to score or assist on a goal as Leon slumped to 13th place in the Clausura season.

[READ: England squad reconnects with fans]

“…both parties have decided not to (keep the contract) for the Clausura that united us,” Leon said in a statement. “The departure of Landon from our team has been exemplary in all aspects. The club loses a legendary professional from the world of sports that leaves an indelible institutional imprint.”

It’s unclear what’s next for Donovan, but he stated in an interview with PST’s Matt Reed that he intends to continue playing in Mexico.

Donovan recently drew the ire of U.S. Men’s National Team fans and Donovan’s former teammates when he revealed he was rooting for Mexico at the World Cup this summer as part of a Well’s Fargo campaign.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.