Aspire International overcame Aspire Academy, winning by four goals to one, in a well-contested match on Aspire Zone pitch number four. In what was possibly a game too far for both teams, they still managed to produce an entertaining display that contained five well-taken goals.
The fixture presented an opportunity to examine the respective progress and performance levels of these two fine Aspire teams. The Academy had given some solid performances in this tournament, not least when they beat Japanese side Kobe Vissel 6-1 in their first group game. That victory enabled them to qualify for the last eight and a tie against Real Madrid. They lost that game narrowly 3-2 but, in doing so, established a recognisable pattern of play, absorbing opposition pressure whilst seeking to punish on the counter attack.
Aspire International, winners of last year’s tournament, may have been expected to maintain that success this time around. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, after they lost quarter-final 4-0 to PSG, but despite this premature exit the team had shown talent in abundance.
From the kick off it was apparent that both teams were adopting a serious approach to the game and, with a quarter of an hour gone, presentable chances came and went for each side. First, International’s Boussefiane made a fine run to feed Baidoo in the box but his shot went narrowly wide. Then, at the other end, Academy’s Mohamad Alabbasi crossed for tall striker Ramazan Orazov, whose header was just off-target.
Orazov showed plenty of willing but perhaps lacked the guile and pace of the player he was replacing in the starting line up, Hassan Penang. International’s Jean Amani oozed poise and class on the ball, just as he had in all their previous matches. But he was helpless to prevent the Academy from taking the lead around the half hour mark, after Abushanab laid the ball in nicely to Ali Surag, who shot firmly past outstretched goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham. Surag’s spectacular somersault celebration conveyed his unbounded joy in scoring.
Academy were putting on an entertaining show and at this stage were proving more than a match for International, whose attack was not quite clicking as the Academy’s defence held firm, if sometimes by skin of their teeth.
At last, on 38 minutes, International received reward for their swift attacking play. From the right side of midfield Amani fed Baidoo, who quickly dispatched a shot into the Aspire Academy net to square the score at 1-1.
On 40 minutes Amani received a yellow card after kicking out at Al Mudahka, who was stretchered off for treatment and replaced by Hazem Shehata. From the free kick 20 yards out a dangerous effort by Khalid Mazeed was well defended, and the first half ended with honours even.
The second period started much the same as the first, with Aspire International’s swift passing being countered by Academy’s attempts to break up play with determined tackles.
On 53 minutes International’s Rogerson received a pass from Silas Gnaka and advanced into the area only to be denied by the post. Ten minutes later the skillful striker went close again, with Al-Ameri making a last ditch challenge to prevent a certain goal.
Aspire Academy were by now living on their wits as their committed display began to catch up on them. And, on 73 minutes they fell behind when , the Celtic youth player Innes Murray’s corner on the left found substitute Alasana Manhoh, whose cross shot was deflected into his own net by Alabbasi.
Both sides were beginning to tire but Aspire Academy appeared to be suffering most, and with five minutes remaining Mvondos’s fantastic long ball set Baidoo free to score a breakaway goal, making it 3-1 to International. It was Baidoo’s second of the game and his brace was just reward for the striker, who had shone throughout this Al Kass tournament.
International were still not finished, and claimed a fourth in added time. Baidoo ran through on the left of the area, skipping past some tired challenges before setting up Orazov for an easy finish into an unguarded net.
Ultimately, a spirited performance by Aspire Academy was not enough to stop Aspire International from claiming a deserved and convincing victory. Both teams should feel proud of their tremendous showing in Al Kass 2015, and will have undoubtedly benefitted from the rich experience.