Real Madrid finally solved the mystery of the Al Kass International Cup final, winning their first tournament title in three trips to the last round, 2-0, over Aspire Academy last night at Aspire Zone.
It was a landmark night for football in Qatar as well, as the Aspire team fought to the very end against the tournament’s strongest side. The second-place showing marked the local squad’s best result in the six-year history of Al Kass.
In the end, a combination of Real Madrid’s characteristic talent and Aspire’s final nerves was enough to lift the Spanish. With the game scoreless in the 79th minute, Aspire keeper Shehab Mamdouh Ellethy parried a cross from Marvin Akinlabi in front of his own goal. Defender Saleh Saeed Binhalabi hesitated to clear, and his uncertain strike hit the shin of Madrid’s José Antonio Fernandez Simal and rolled agonisingly into the far corner of the net.
There was no questioning Madrid’s second goal. On 89 minutes, Antonio Manuel Casas Marín found space from 30 yards and didn’t hesitate. His half-volley curled into the top corner past Ellethy, a world-class goal to win a world-class tournament.
After the match, Real Madrid coach Alvaro Benito Vilarr said: “I want to thank the organizers of the tournament. They have done a wonderful job putting together such an amazing and professional event. I am thankful to my players for playing good quality football. What really makes me happy is the fact that all of them came together as a united group of professionals to win the event. Aspire Academy also played extremely well. It has been a true learning experience for my players to have played against them and the other teams.”
Madrid’s Miguel Baez Pérez was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and shared the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer at four goals with Franck Junior Evina of Bayern Munich and Kaito Mori of Kashiwa Reysol. Kashiwa’s Tomo Chiwata was named Most Outstanding Goalkeeper, and the Kashiwa squad won the Fair Play Award for the fewest bookings.
Bruno Miguel Nogueira, coach of Aspire Academy, was gracious in defeat, saying: “Despite losing the final game, I am extremely delighted with my players. They exhibited an excellent performance all through the tournament, especially in the final match against a very strong opponent. We have come a long way and now we are a strong team with the ability to challenge some of the best teams in the world. I am thankful to everyone who have put in their efforts to organize this tournament.”
Aspire defender Ahmed Suhail Al-Hamawende was disappointed with the loss but optimistic: “Winning and losing is part of the game, but what is important for us is the fact that we played very well. We played as a strong team. I am happy with the way all of us played in this game. We learned a lot in this tournament from the teams participating and all of them have a number of very strong and skilled players. We are looking forward to meeting them again in the field in future tournaments.”
Essa Abdulla Al-Hitmi, General Manager of Al Kass Channels and Chairman of the Organising Committee of Al Kass International Cup, said: “We congratulate Real Madrid for winning Al Kass International Cup Under-17 2017. We also congratulate Aspire Academy for coming second and for the great results it achieved and the wonderful performance which characterized it and which enabled it to come this far.”
The final was played in front of a capacity crowd, and the awards ceremony was capped off by a rousing confetti display set to the song “We are the Champions.” In addition to the packed stands at Aspire Zone, nearly 200,000 viewers tuned in to watch the tournament online.
Ivan Bravo, Director General of Aspire Academy, said afterward: “Once again, we’ve successfully hosted one of the best youth tournaments in the world. More and more have come to know about the tournament, and each year the crowd gets bigger. Great talent was on display, and we watched fantastic games played by teams from all over the world. The fact that Aspire Academy reached the final for the first time shows that we have reached another great milestone in the development of our players, and one day they will hopefully represent Qatar in the senior national team.”
H.E Ignacio Escobar, Ambassador of Spain to Qatar, was present to cheer on Real Madrid, who finished runner-up in 2014 and 2016. “I’m incredibly happy with Real Madrid’s win. It was a fantastic match and of course I’m happy that Real Madrid won, but I think either of the two teams could have won” he said. “Aspire had an excellent first half and fought very hard, were present everywhere and made a big effort. But I think the class of the Spanish team was evident in the second half. The organisation of the event was excellent, and I enjoyed watching the tournament, as I do every year.”
Mohammad Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, CEO of Aspire Zone, said “We are proud of the fact that Aspire Academy has reached the final, and we knew that Real Madrid were the favourite to win, but our team was a strong foe until minute 80. I congratulate our players, and I congratulate Real Madrid for winning this tournament for the first time after reaching the final three times.”
In the third-place match, Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) defeated Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), 4-0. Salzburg, which fell to Aspire in the semi-finals, wasted no time claiming their bronze medals, scoring four goals in the first 30 minutes. Aldin Aganovic scored two goals, and captain Benjamin Wallquist and Dominik Szoboszlai scored as well for Salzburg, who finished fourth in their Al Kass debut in 2016.
“This was a high-level tournament with all the teams displaying professional tactics, techniques and strong physical ability. Today, we played a different style, and it worked. I think many of the other teams are impressed by our unique style, which has taken us this far in the tournament,” said Salzburg coach Marco Rose.
Moving down the table, in fifth place were Kashiwa Reysol (Japan), Paris Saint-Germain (France) were sixth, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) were seventh, and Espérance de Tunis (Tunisia) took eighth.
Also competing in the tournament were Al Ahli (Saudi Arabia), Bayern Munich (Germany), Raja Casablanca (Morocco) and AS Roma (Italy).
Currently celebrating its sixth year, Al Kass International Cup is organized by Al Kass Sports Channels, in collaboration with Aspire Zone Foundation and the Qatar Football Association. The Under-17 football tournament is a global championship for worldwide competitive clubs.
The Al Kass International Cup has established itself as a key international football event that supports the Qatar National Vision 2030 and contributes to building on the foundations of a proud footballing nation up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and beyond.
Inaugurated in 2012, Al Kass International Cup is an annual tournament that provides some of the world’s choice young footballers the opportunity to demonstrate their ability and skills on the world stage. The tournament also aims to contribute to the nurturing of passion for football in Qatar and the region by offering up an 11-day action-packed competition that seeks to propel Qatar to the forefront of sporting excellence and leadership.