Aspire Hit The Right Notes With Victory Over Rangers
Aspire Academy claimed a splendid 3-1 win against a highly fancied Glasgow Rangers team who many have tipped to go all the way at Al Kass 2019.
Aspire had made two enforced changes from their first game, a 1-0 loss to Raja Casablanca in which they finished with nine players. Fahad Al- Abdulla and Abdalla Yousif started in place of the suspended Mostafa Kadira and Mohamed Aiash this time round.
Meanwhile, Rangers had made three changes, with the hugely impressive Nathan Young-Coombes rested along with Adam Devine and keeper Lewis Budinauckas.
Aspire’s pacey winger Mekki Tombari caught the eye early on with a series of lung-bursting runs down the wing, while Khalid Bin Sabaa saw plenty of the ball and showed some deft touches.
And, on 15 minutes, Tombari got in behind the Rangers defence down the right and crossed for midfielder Fahad Al-Abdulla to slot home on the rebound, after his first effort was saved.
Minutes later, and it could have been two, when Naif Alhadrami was sent clear to go one-on-one with keeper Jay Hogarth, but his shot was easily saved.
For Rangers, Kai Kennedy was one again pulling the strings in central midfield, his combination of power and precise passing making him difficult to close down.
The local supporters were in fine voice, with traditional call and response songs rolling down from the stands, accompanied by the percussive rhythms of a tabla drummer. And, on the field, the Aspire youngsters were also very much on song. Just after the restart, they had a chance to extend their lead when Abdulrahman Al-Abdulrahman broke away down the right and supplied an inviting cross for Bin Sabaa, but his first time volley was miscued.
The game began to open up, and Young-Coombes – on as a substitute for the injured Ross McCausland - was presented with a great chance to level matters for Rangers, but he was off-balance and fired wide when he might have done better. However, his presence in the Scottish front line was beginning to trouble Aspire’s defenders.
Chances continued to stack up for both sides, with Al-Abdulrahman skewing horribly wide when the ball fell to him unmarked on the edge of the area. However, just after the hour mark, he atoned for this miss to send the home support wild.
Murray Miller was put under pressure in a central position 30 yards out, and he played a backpass straight to Al-Abdulrahman, who was loitering with intent on the edge of the box. The Qatari forward gratefully accepted the gift, sliding the ball under keeper Hogarth to put Aspire two up.
With 20 minutes remaining, Kennedy had a golden chance to reduce the deficit for Rangers, but Aspire keeper Yousef Balideh saved from close range to maintain his side’s two-goal advantage.
Nathan-Coombes continued to threaten, and won a free kick on the left-hand corner of the area with 10 minutes remaining. Christopher McKee’s brilliant effort missed the target by a matter of centimetres.
Rangers were knocking on the door, and got a goal back soon after, when Arron Lyall got away down the right and cut back for fellow substitute Matt Yates to chest down and plant a fine effort into the roof of the net.
Suddenly a draw looked on the cards but, incredibly, Fahad Al Abdulla restored Aspire’s two-goal lead straight from the restart in spectacular fashion. His superb turn and shot from the edge of the area went in off the post to spark delirium in the stands.
The result means that both sides progress into the knockout stages, and they have each shown enough so far to suggest they could go deep into the tournament at Al Kass 2019.