Positive momentum has been lacking for Fulham thus far this season, and after falling victim to a mauling at Molineux against Championship leader’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, the November international break came at possibly the best time for Slavisa Jokanovic’s faltering squad.
For many in the set-up, the halt in the domestic schedule would have been a welcome breather, a brief period where they could focus on getting things right again on Saturday, when the Whites encounter Derby County at Craven Cottage. A victory at home will be especially invaluable.
However for six first-team members, international duty was top of the agenda. A privilege which not only benefits their respective national set-up, but Fulham simultaneously. It’s an opportunity to stay competitively sharp, and indeed in Fulham’s case, the chance to bolster confidence and mentality with a win for their homeland. Let’s see how they fared.
Northern Ireland had the World Cup in their sights, though an organised Switzerland were stood menacingly before them as the two nations squared-up to fight for the right to successfully qualify for next summer’s tournament in Russia. Norwood manned the middle of the park for Michael O’Neill’s squad during the tie’s first-leg at Windsor Park on November 9th for the entire duration, an occasion which was marred by a penalty being dubiously awarded in Switzerland’s favour, a suspect spot-kick which was converted by AC Milan’s Ricardo Rodriguez to condemn the ‘Green and White Army’ to a sour 1-0 loss on their home patch.
The second-leg, November 12th, ended in a 0-0 draw at St. Jakob-Park, and despite Northern Ireland’s spirited efforts to bag an away goal of their own, they couldn’t breach Switzerland’s dogged defensive ranks, meaning that Norwood will spend the summer of 2018 watching the planet’s greatest sporting event on the sofa with a sorrowful beer or two.
The prize of performing in Russia was also on the cards for Kebano as his national fold, DR Congo, faced Guinea in their final Group A fixture on November 11th, a game where nothing but a triumph would do, if they were going to pip group leader’s Tunisia to the coveted honour. The winger, who was drowned out of proceedings against Wolves, managed to bag a goal for ‘The Leopards’ in the 93rd minute, helping his team beat ‘Syli nationale’ 3-1, however the three points were simply not enough.
A win or a draw would have been enough for Tunisia to retain top spot and progress to the competition next year, and they achieved their target by playing out a 0-0 draw against Libya. So close, but yet so far for Kebano, however a goal and a victory is somewhat spurring, so perhaps he’ll return to south-west London with a renewed sense of hunger and potency under his belt, a fire in his belly to prove himself as a worthy offensive threat once more.
Kalas was nowhere to be seen in ‘Slav’s’ starting XI at Wolves, and that was also apparent when Czech Republic lined up against Iceland in Qatar, a showcase international friendly which Kalas’ compatriots won 2-1 without his usually staunch services in the heart of the defensive pack on November 8th.
Next up for Czech Republic was event host’s Qatar at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium, and after a brace of games to collect his composure, Kalas returned to the match-day selection and completed a full 90 minutes at centre-half on November 11th. A 1-0 victory and most importantly a clean sheet for the 25-year-old Chelsea loanee, an accomplishment which will remind him that he is still more than capable of stopping his opponent’s endeavours to beat the keeper. Hopefully he can replicate the same kind of sturdy performance against the Rams at the weekend – if he’s in Jokanovic’s plans, that is.
For Ream and USMNT, failing to qualify for the World Cup cut the nation deep, a travesty which was slated scathingly in the worldwide press, but in order to dust themselves down and start a clean slate after their previous shortcomings, a date against the European champion’s Portugal was next up on the agenda for the floundering Americans on November 14th.
Taking the lead against Portugal through Weston McKennie, America had their tails up for all but 10 minutes before Vitorino Atunes pegged the scoreline back to 1-1, and that’s how it stayed at the Estadio Dr. Magalhaes Pessoa until the referee’s closing whistle. Ream, incidentally, never made it onto the turf. At least he’ll be fresh for Fulham’s next pressing challenge, though.
Togo scalped Mauritius 6-0 on November 11th and Ayite patrolled the left-flank for an hour on November 12th – now that’s a real formula for success. With influential contributions once again against Nuno Esprito Santo’s men being absent where Ayite is concerned, the glee of representing his country in a sheer drubbing must have put a spring back in his recently slackened step.
With Sheyi Ojo on the cusp of a return from a shoulder injury sustained against Queens Park Rangers in particular, Ayite will be wary of his status in the squad, with so many talented wingers eagerly awaiting their chance to stamp their mark in the Cottagers’ lukewarm regiment. The 28-year-old has struggled to find last season’s form this term; he and fans alike will be hoping that his best is yet to come, as he’s certainly one of the club’s brightest and most abundant outlets on his day.
Three U19 European Championship qualifying ties for Sessegnon and England’s u19 set-up against Faroe Islands, Iceland and Bulgaria were scheduled during the break, and the prolific ‘Young Lions’ claimed victories in all three encounters, with the scores ending 6-0, 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. A clinical clean sweep for Sess’ and his fledgling teammates.
An asset to Fulham, Sessegnon, 17, is yet to uncover his highly sought-after talents during the current campaign, although being tender in years, it would be unwise to heavily criticise the adaptable left-back as he is still learning his trade. Many argue that he is more effective further up the park, but whatever is certain it’s that the English prospect is undoubtedly a key component for the Whites, a starlet with flare, vision and world-beating potential.