Fulham players taking to the international stage

Fulham players on their way to Euro 2012

Fulham players taking to the international stage

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May 17th, 2012

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Fulham’s season is over; finally. The 2011/12 term kicked off for the Cottagers on June 30th in the Europa League First Qualifying Round, and with Premier League safety assured some time ago, the players and staff could have been forgiven for looking forward to SundayView post‘s final game against Tottenham Hotspur.

Martin Jol enjoyed a strong first season in charge of Fulham after something of a hurried beginning. He had about ten minutes to get the team in shape before their first game on a very long European campaign. Jol rotated his squad, introduced new signings and young players seamlessly and ensured Fulham bettered their league points total of last season.

All-in-all, it can be seen as a very good start for the Dutch coach and he’ll be able to enjoy his time-off. Well, as much as he can, given that a string of his big name players are being linked with moves away from the club on an almost daily basis. However, while Jol is relaxing as well as doing what he can to prepare for the 2012/13 campaign, a handful of players will be preparing themselves to play in the 12th month of their season.

On June 30th 2011, Damien Duff opened the scoring for Fulham in the Europa League First Qualifying Round First Leg with a strike on the half hour against NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands. Fulham coasted into the next round with a 3-0 victory across two games that rarely saw them step above second gear.

Next week, the 33 year-old will join up with Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad ahead of Euro 2012. Duff, a two Premier League winner, isn’t quite a regular for Ireland at the moment and only featured in seven of the qualifying matches. However, his experience will be key for the Irish at the tournament.

Duff’s 95 caps put him a long way ahead of the rest of the Irish midfielders who are, in truth, still trying to establish themselves on the international stage. Duff’s issue ahead of the tournament in Poland and Ukraine is his competition for a starting berth on either wing. Trapattoni is not going to change the tactics that served him so well in guiding Ireland to the European Championships. A strong, resolute back-four are anchored by two defensively minded central midfielders. The solid base is established and allows two hard-working wingers to support a very busy front two.

Duff will see himself as one of those wingers but in James McClean, Aiden McGeady, Keith Fahey and Stephen Hunt, he faces tough, younger competition who are all capable of getting up their intensity levels longer than Duff.

Joining Duff in the Republic of Ireland squad is full-back Stephen Kelly. A consistent performer through the season for Fulham, Kelly featured five times for Ireland during the qualifying campaign. Unfortunately for him, he was used as a back-up to John O’Shea and with the Sunderland man set to shrug off his ankle injury to meet up with the squad, its likely Kelly will start the first game of Euro 2012 on the bench.

The other Fulham star who will be at Euro 2012, unless cruelly ruled out by injury, will be Pavel Pogrebnyak. The Russian striker has benefitted massively from a January switch and has scored six goals since switching from Stuttgart. His return of a goal every other game has meant that Dick Advocaat has included him in his preliminary panel of 26 players.

Should Pog be able to impress in training when the Russia squad meets up before the selection deadline of May 28th, he’ll bag himself a place on the plane.

Elsewhere, David Stockdale and Alexander Kacaniklic could still slip into the England and Sweden squads but they will need to rely on injuries to strike down both groups.

Ryan Keaney

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