With so many of Fulham’s first team away on international duty this week, it felt wrong to not chronicle how they got on. Cameron Ramsey was our man on the worldwide scene, and here he assesses the break from a Whites perspective.
The deflating, yet record-setting 2-2 draw against Queen Park Rangers feels like an age ago now that the international break took a suffocating stranglehold once more, and as domestic matters came to a brief close, our attentions were abruptly forced towards how our respective countries fared – and most importantly – how well or shoddily the Fulham lads performed in their national colours.
A vast selection of Slavisa Jokanovic’s first-team contingent swept club responsibilities aside momentarily for March’s intermission, a stoppage in the Championship’s extensive calendar which may seem disruptive to the Whites’ promotion push, but the opportunity to impress, especially for a select few who may get the license to grace the World Cup in the summer, ensured that the absentees from Motspur Park remain razor sharp as the 2017-18 season ambles onward to the final kick of the season.
Tom Cairney & Kevin McDonald – Scotland
Fulham’s midfield dynamos Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald were called-up to Alex McLeish’s Scotland fold and on the 23rd the two instrumental protagonists were named in the starting XI to face Costa Rica at Hampden Park, an exceedingly proud day for the dynamic duo, who take to the turf valiantly on every given occasion.
Scotland owned the lion’s share of the ball throughout the encounter. However, their efforts to breach Costa Rica’s rearguard were ineffective and McLeish’s men ultimately fell short of the mark as Los Ticos claimed a 1-0 victory, thanks to a strike from Los Angeles FC’s Marco Urena in the 14th minute.
TC made way for Callum McGregor in the 58th minute and KMac managed to last the full 90, but it was an accomplished, if quiet, showing from both professionals.
Next up for Scotland was an excursion to Hungary on the 27th March, a meeting at Budapest’s Groupama Arena where Cairney and McDonald both graced the bench rather than the pitch, with squad rotation being favoured by McLeish.
With wounds to lick, Scotland took the cold, brisk night by the scruff of the neck and claimed a 1-0 victory, but all that the two Whites men could do was slouch back and revel in the triumph from the technical area.
Cairney and McDonald are deservedly part of Scotland’s squad after being overlooked in recent times, but the future is bright and promising for McLeish, especially if he continues to select the pair on a more regular basis when they’re cohesively pulling the strings in the Whites’ midfield.
Oliver Norwood – Northern Ireland
One fixture lay in front of Northern Ireland on the 24th at Windsor Park, and another chance for Oliver Norwood to prove his disruptive qualities in the middle of the pack arose against a drilled, persistent South Korea collective.
Norwood and co. found themselves a goal down in the early stages as a result of a Kwon Chang-hoon effort, although the Green and White Army were level in the 20th minute through an own goal from Kim Min-jae.
South Korea stretched Northern Ireland throughout the game and dominated possession, and though Shin Tae-yong’s squad pressed the target, they simply couldn’t punish Norn Iron’s resolute defensive ranks.
Michael O’Neill’s corps did ripple back of the net in the 86th minute, though, as Paul Smyth crashed the ball home, a killer blow which gifted his country a rather fortuitous 2-1 victory.
Norwood lasted just over 70 minutes on the night and distributed the ball intelligently, a regular feature of his game down by the river —evidence that the resourceful midfielder is focused and motivated.
Norwood may not be an undisputed starter for the Cottagers, but his presence on the field will be paramount to his loan club’s prosperity in the top six as they search for a route back into the Premier League.
Cyrus Christie – Republic of Ireland
Cyrus Christie travelled to the New Antalya Stadium on the 23rd with the Republic of Ireland team to lock horns with Turkey, and though the flying right-back is an integral member of Martin O’Neill’s fold, Fulham’s January acquisition didn’t manage to get any game time under his belt.
Ireland captain Seamus Coleman manned the right flank for just over an hour, and Matt Doherty took the Everton defender’s place at the former Middlesbrough man’s expense.
The Boys in Green lost 1-0 against Mircea Lucescu’s squad, and it certainly goes without saying that things may have been different if Christie was granted the chance to run the channels. His final balls are frequent and threatening after all – just ask Mitro.
Stefan Johansen – Norway
Stefan Johansen, Norway’s esteemed captain, led his men out against Australia on the 23rd for a meeting which was billed to be a gruelling battle of guile, brawn and wits, and though Burton Albion’s Jackson Irvine gave the Socceroos impetus in the 19th minute, StefJo’s regiment bit back sharply through Ola Kamara with 15 minutes left of the first half.
Going into the second half, Johansen’s men rallied and rattled Australia from the off and Tore Reginiussen made it 2-1. Kamara duly grabbed a further brace in the tie to complete his hat-trick and make it 4-1, and the Nordic nation ran out victors, a rampant showing in Oslo.
Johansen, incidentally, earned himself the game’s only caution, but that’s the die-hard example he sets his troops on match day.
After the weekend, Norway squared up against Albania away at the Elbasan Arena on the 26th, and though the Albanians hogged 57% of possession, Johansen – who was instrumental in the centre – and his teammates ran out 1-0 winners, capping off a successful international break with a clean sheet.
3 minutes before he was subbed off, Johansen picked up another caution for his over-exuberance once again, but as the incisive playmaker has to be at the top of his mental capacity, the cards that were brandished against him in the two meetings are merely markers of his burning desire to firmly stamp his presence on the game.
Hopefully against Norwich City on Friday, he’ll do so in a more positive manner, of course.
Floyd Ayite – Togo
A valued, trusted wide player at Fulham, Floyd Ayite is finally starting to prove his metal once again at CC and on the international stage he’s also one of Togo’s stand out stars, even more so after their latest bout against Ivory Coast which ended 2-2 on the 24th, a game which harboured a catalogue of eye-catching moments for the trailblazing 29-year-old.
His 36th cap, Ayite single-handedly salvaged a point for Les Eperviers either side of the half-time interval, with goals coming in the 42nd minute and the 55th to peg Les Éléphants lead back after a storming opening 25 minutes, where Lille’s Nicolas Pepe also tallied two blows of his own.
Ayite effortlessly turned the game on its head and once the 69th minute rolled around his work was done and dusted. The nimble winger was subbed by Claude Le Roy for Komlan Agbégniadan.
As such, he’s relatively rested both mentally and physically, and it’s presumed that he’ll return to Fulham with a spring in his step and a lust for the target, just in time for the eagerly awaited trip to Carrow Road.
Tomas Kalas – Czech Republic
The World Cup may be cooing on the horizon, but Czech Republic were contenders in the newly formed China Cup, devised as a way to make the international break more competitive. In the 23rd, Uruguay stood imposingly in the Czechs’ way, a semi-final showdown where Tomas Kalas occupied the bench for the duration of the 2-0 loss.
The loss against Luis Suarez’s La Celeste meant that the final was well out of reach, although they did have the chance to nab 3rd spot against tournament hosts China on the 26th and the fibrous Chelsea loanee wasn’t about to let the game pass him by without a say.
China went into the break a goal to the good, although a second half onslaught was propped up by Kalas, who neatly tucked away his first international goal and the fixture’s equaliser with a deft flick, an instance of craftsmanship which any seasoned striker would be proud of. Karel Jarolim’s team went on to mercilessly scalp the Asian outfit 4-1 to claim bronze.
Kalas lasted the full match at the heart of the defence and the euphoria of notching a first international goal should definitely have bolstered his confidence after recovering from a period on the sidelines.
The Whites will hope that he channels his energy into his performances for the club during the closing weeks of the season. On his day, the sturdy defender is a key component of Slav’s back four, and we’ll need him fit and raring to go.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – Serbia
Since migrating down south from Newcastle United on a 6-month loan deal, Aleksandar Mitrovic has been a revelation for Fulham and has forged himself a weekly place in Jokanovic’s match-day XI, and for Serbia the privilege of having the potent target-man complete the spearhead is obvious.
On the 23rd, Serbia were defeated 2-1 by Morocco with all the goals being registered in the first 45 and Mitro, oddly, failed to beat the keeper. But have no fear, the robust hit-man is full to the brim with enthusiasm and tenacity, and against Nigeria on the 27th, he reminded us all to the raw, ruthless talent in his locker.
With the tie locked at 0-0, Mitrovic burst into action and put the Super Eagles to the sword after meeting a studied cross acrobatically on the penalty spot. Ten minutes from time the driven attacker found a second of the night, a goal which ultimately gave his nation a 2-0 win over an energetic Nigeria side.
A move to the Championship to work and learn alongside fellow countryman Jokanovic has rewarded Mitrovic with a reinvigorated approach to his trade as now, down by the river, the temperamental striker has a purpose and importance.
Mitrovic is integral to Fulham’s offensive department, and once he gets himself going, there’s simply no stopping his appetite for goals.
Neeskens Kebano – DR Congo
Reinstating himself into Jokanovic’s squad must be at the top of Neeskens Kebano’sagenda at the moment after being pipped by the likes of Sheyi Ojo, Floyd Ayite and Rui Fonte. His chance to impress came on the 27th as DR Congo faced Tanzania, but despite running himself into the ground, Kebano couldn’t impact proceedings in his country’s favour.
Tanzania beat the Leopards 2-0, but Kebano remained on the field right until the last whistle, so a full 90 minutes will undoubtedly be a positive considering that he’s been overlooked at the Cottage lately.
Many have been calling for the Kebano to return to the fold, even as a sub, as the adaptable winger brings a unique set of qualities to the table, traits which are indeed highly beneficial to Fulham on the flanks, in the hole, or behind the striker as an auxiliary forward.
Ryan Sessegnon – England U21
With the whirlwind season Ryan Sessegnon is having, noises of a call-up to England’s senior set-up were being spouted on every social media site available, but the fledgling winger, who appears to be unfazed by virtually every test in existence, was rightfully handed a slot in Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 team, a step-up at junior level given that he’s remarkably still only 17-years-old.
England overcame a resilient Romania 2-1 at Molineux but Sess, who was named amongst the subs, would have to wait for his first outing for the Young Lions, although a taste of U21 football wouldn’t elude him for much longer.
A start for Sessegnon in the follow-up game against Ukraine was in line, and it was time for the flourishing teenager to showcase exactly what the hype is all about. Boothroyd opted to switch the two wingers around so Sess was ordered to patrol an unfamiliar right flank. England won 2-1 thanks to a late header from Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke, and Sessegnon can take great pride in his debut.
For his first appearance for the U21’s, and whilst being out of position for a noteworthy portion of the game, Sessegnon put in an accomplished shift which spanned the length of the encounter.
And if anyone has forgotten, perish the thought, he’s unmistakably one of our own and it surely won’t be long until he’s terrorising full-backs to within an inch of their careers at Wembley for Gareth Southgate’s contingent.