January 31, 2017

Real Disappointment for Aspire Heroes

Aspire had gone from strength to strength during Al Kass 2017. As the only team with a 100 percent
win record, their flawless journey to the final had seen them conquer some of world football’s
biggest names. However, with Real Madrid standing in their way of being crowned tournament
champions, the Academy youngsters undoubtedly faced their toughest opponents to date.
The Spanish giants had also enjoyed an impressive run and, despite slipping up on one occasion
courtesy of a late PSG goal, they had demonstrated a steely resolve combined with fearsome

Penalty shootouts have decided several Al Kass tournaments in recent years, with teams
understandably focussing their efforts on not conceding rather than scoring. And, despite the
entertaining progress made by both sides en route to the final, it seemed as though history might
repeat itself in 2017. Most of the first half was spent trading possession in midfield, with the

occasional stray pass providing half chances that did not bear fruit.
The closest either team came to breaking the deadlock was a 14 th minute effort fashioned from an
Aspire corner. Nasser Alahrak crossed towards the penalty spot, where an unmarked Ahmed Al-
Hamawende headed goalward. Real keeper Diego Suarez was rooted to the spot, and could only
watch as the ball came off the Aspire defender’s head and bounced clear off the post.
Shaken by the threat, Madrid backed off and began to play safe, calculated passes that guaranteed
the ball remained theirs.

Just before half-time, Los Blancos almost took the lead. Miguel Pérez skipped through the midfield
and a reverse pass between the centre backs was picked up by Raúl De Blas. The striker took a shot
early despite having plenty of time. A little more awareness might have seen the Spanish side go
ahead, as the effort drifted wide.

The teams went into the break 0-0, with neither showing clear signs of being on top. The Qatari side
had given the ball away cheaply on several occasions, whereas Madrid were often too enthusiastic in
the tackle, resulting in the conceding of too many fouls.

More chances were created in the second period as Real Madrid grew into the game. The Spanish
side pressured Aspire, whose only opportunities came against the run of play on the counter.

One such chance arose in the 64 th minute, when the Qatari team once again came close to taking the
lead. An Alejandro Carrero lapse in concentration saw Hashim Ali snatch possession in the Madrid
half. After carrying the ball down the line, his low cross picked out Ahmad Sebaie who, after creating
a yard of space, produced a shot that lacked venom as it floated harmlessly towards goal.

A tactical change three minutes later saw the Madrid forward line completely reshuffled. De Blas
was swapped for Antonio Casas Marín to give the Spaniards a greater aerial threat. The switch also
saw Pérez move to a more advanced role, playing almost as a second striker.

With the ball now spending most of its time in wide areas, Los Blancos looked to exploit Marvin
Akinlabi’s pace and dribbling ability, allowing him to aim crosses high towards target man Marín.

Aspire vs Real

It looked as though the match would end in similar fashion to recent finals, with the dreaded penalty
shootout beckoning. However, Madrid would take the lead just 10 minutes before full time in
slightly fortuitous circumstances.

Akinlabi wriggled free of his marker and advanced into the area from the right, and fired a cross low
into the crowded Aspire box. Local keeper Shehab Ellethy got down to push the ball out, only for the
unlucky Saleh Binhalabi’s clearance to cannon off Jose Simal’s shin and into the net. The goal was far
from being the tournament’s most attractive, but it sent the crowd into a frenzy of euphoria or
despair, depending on allegiances.

Ten minutes later Madrid doubled their lead, this time in far more spectacular fashion. Ellethy’s long
kick fell near the halfway line, and was picked up by Marín. He advanced through a central position
before firing a half-volley from 25 yards past the keeper.

With a two-goal lead, and only three minutes remaining on the clock, it was now impossible for
Aspire to work their way back into the game, leaving the Spanish side patiently waiting for the
referee’s whistle. Once heard, Los Blancos’ substitutes and staff flooded the pitch to congratulate
each other. Having fallen short in the final twice before, third time really was the charm for the

Spanish side.

The valiant Aspire team had fallen just short. Despite pressuring the opposition early in the game,
they conceded at a pivotal point in the game and, in so doing, narrowly missed out on being
crowned champions.