February 16, 2015

PSG Crowned Kings of Al Kass

Paris Saint-Germain were crowned kings of Al Kass last night after prevailing against a valiant Sao Paulo side in a penalty shootout, after a gripping match had finished 1-1 in normal time.

A capacity crowd had assembled at Aspire Zone to watch the spectacle, generating an electric atmosphere as the teams took the field, and they were treated to a superb exhibition of attacking football to crown a thrilling Al Kass tournament.

Sao Paulo came into the match as slight favourites, having maintained a 100 percent record throughout the tournament that included 5-0 demolitions of both AC Milan and PSG, although the latter result was earned against a second string Parisian line-up.

It was immediately clear that the Frenchmen would provide a far sterner test this time around, and they should have taken the lead with less than a minute gone. WIlfride Kanga broke free down the right and crossed low for Odsonne Edouard, whose weak side-footed effort from three yards out was straight at keeper Lucas Da Silva.

PSG were having the better of the opening exchanges, although an eighth-minute snapshot from Paulo da Silva signalled Sao Paulo’s attacking intent.

The Brazilians had lined up with a front three of Da Silva on the left, Bruno Rapanelli on the right, and Augusto Galvan through the middle. The trio had performed exceptionally well en route to the final, but were finding the going tough against disciplined opponents who denied them space and sought to cut off the supply from midfield.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Callegari was beginning to pull the strings for PSG in the middle of the park, while ahead of him Edouard, Kanga and Jonathan Ikone were a blur of activity, constantly swapping positions as they worked to unsettle the Brazilians’ backline.

The Parisians’ containment strategy appeared to be paying off until, on 25 minutes, Sao Paulo conjured a goal out of nowhere. Left back Caique Maria escaped down the left and sent in a teasing cross that Pedro De Oliviera met with a diving header at the far post.

Five minutes later Igor Pereira went close again for the Brazilians, his fierce drive from distance flashing narrowly wide of the right post as the game began to open up.

Pereira’s central midfield partner Eder Militao was sitting deep in an attempt to blunt the opposition’s attacking threat, and on 35 minutes he broke up play inside his own half and advanced into opposition territory before playing a slide rule pass to Rapanelli, whose low curled shot was only just kept out by Sebastien Cibois in the PSG goal.

With half time around the corner PSG almost equalised in spectacular fashion when Ikone produced a splendid volley from eight yards out that keeper Da Silva did well to tip over.

The second period got underway and within minutes Sao Paulo almost extended their lead. Pereira powered into the area and played an exquisite one-two with Galvan before feeding De Oliviera six yards out, but Cibois got down smartly to deny the midfielder.

On 58 minutes the Brazilians had a narrow escape when Ikone danced into the area and played a low ball in to the far post, but Edouard was unable to connect with the goal at his mercy.

PSG were beginning to threaten, with Ikone at the heart of their best attacks. However, the Sao Paulo defence stood firm, and further forward they were increasingly finding the space to execute their exquisite passing game. As the match passed the hour mark the contest was finely balanced, with the Parisians still very much in the game despite trailing by a single goal.

With 25 minutes remaining PSG coach Rodrigues made a positive change, replacing midfielder Boubakary Soumare with attacker Samuel Mbongu in an effort to get his side back on level terms. Five minutes later Sao Paulo sent on the combative Luiz Palhares for De Oliviera as they looked to nullify Callegari’s growing influence in midfield.

The Brazilians were now sitting deeper as PSG pressed forward, and on 78 minutes they were rewarded for their attacking endeavour with a penalty after Igor Valencio brought down Edouard, who got up and scored from the spot – but only just, with his shot creeping over the line off the right-hand post.

Intent on holding on to what they had, the French side now focussed on getting men behind the ball as this fascinating tactical battle took another twist. Sao Paulo worked patiently to try and engineer an opening, but PSG’s renowned organisational ability again came to the fore. Pereira tested Cibois from long range on 87 minutes after a flowing passing move, but the French keeper saved with little difficulty, as the game appeared to be heading for penalties.

As the game moved into added time Sao Paulo were awarded a free kick 30 yards from goal, but newly introduced substitute Pedro Silva’s weak shot was comfortably gathered by the French keeper. PSG were presented with a final chance to win the game moments later, again with a free kick from distance. Callegari curled the ball in but Ikone headed wide as referee Saoud Al Azbah blew the final whistle.

Just like the 2014 tournament, this gripping final was destined to be settled on penalties. Several Sao Paulo players were treated for cramp as the exertions of the previous 90 minutes took their toll. Their fatigue would catch up with them in the cruellest of circumstances.

Alec Georgen stepped up first for PSG and powered his effort into the top left corner. Pereira went low to the right to equalise for Sao Paulo, a trick repeated by Mbongu. Galvan was next up, firing high to the right to make the score 2-2, before Kanga hammered a shot against the left-hand post, handing the advantage to the Brazilians. It was instantly handed back, as Cibois saved well from Paulo Da Silva.

With parity restored, Edouard confidently side-footed low to the right, putting PSG 3-2 ahead. Militao was next, and he chose the opposite corner. Callegari strode up to take the Parisians’ fifth, and was relieved to see his shot go in off the foot of the left post. With the penalty tally at 4-3, Caique Maria had to score to keep Sao Paulo in it, but his strike was too close to Cibois, who emerged as the hero after saving a second penalty.

The result was tough on the Brazilians, whose committed adherence to attacking football throughout the tournament had won neutrals over. Credit must go to PSG however, who produced another nerveless display to win through on a night of high drama.

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