FOOTBALL DREAMS AND REAL EASE INTO KNOCKOUT STAGE
Aspire Football Dreams and Real Madrid fought out a gritty 1-1 draw in Match 8 of Al Kass 2018. With qualification virtually assured for both sides, the game nonetheless presented a valuable opportunity to assess progress against accomplished opposition.
Real had announced themselves as tournament favourites with an imperious 6-2 victory over Fenerbahce in their opening game. AFD, meanwhile, had never looked anything other than comfortable in a routine 2-0 win against the Turkish side. This game therefore promised an altogether tougher examination of each side’s true credentials.
AFD boss Serine Dia had made only one change to his previous starting line-up, with Momodou Jallow slotting in at the back in place of Djakaria Barro.
In contrast, perhaps mindful of the demanding Al Kass schedule, Madrid head coach Manuel Fernandez had rung the changes for this match. Only two players – centre backs Sergio Santos and Javier Domniguez – survived from the previous first 11.
Pacheco had cause to be thankful for retaining his centre backs when, on 23 minutes, his side took the lead. Eneko Gines swung a free kick in from the left, which was only partially cleared. Domniguez was first on the scene, blasting a bouncing ball into the roof of the net from eight yards out.
In a first half where very few chances arose, the goal provided a precious lead for Los Blancos, which they defended resolutely. Content to sit back and absorb pressure, Real sought to counterattack quickly when the opportunity arose.
For their part, Aspire continued to play their positive brand of possession football, seeking to prise open the well-drilled Real backline.
Domniguez’ goal aside, there was nothing to choose between the two sides as the first half drew to a close. And, on the stroke of half time, AFD were level.
Christian Otabil advanced into the area down the inside left channel, deftly evading a last-ditch challenge before slotting past Real keeper Toni Ribera. It was the striker’s second goal of the tournament, and set the stage for the second 45 minutes.
Barring a late and one-sided avalanche of goals, both teams were already assured of progressing to the knockout stage, thanks to Fenerbahce’s defeat in both games.
Yet the game remained hugely competitive in the early stages of the second half, with every loose ball chased down, and intricate approach play a feature of both sides’ styles.
Approaching the hour mark, Aspire had the ball in the net, only for an offside flag to intervene. Soon after, Madrid made two changes, and minutes later Barro replaced goalscorer Otabil for AFD.
With mutual qualification assured, the pace inevitably dropped away in the game’s final quarter, with both sides seemingly content to treat the remainder of the game as a competitive training exercise. A series of half-chances came and went but, on each occasion, defence came out on top. Santos was particularly impressive at the back for Madrid, even embarking on the occasional surge forward that Aspire struggled to contain.
In the knockout phase, few teams will relish being drawn against AFD or Real, and both sides will doubtless be grateful for an opportunity to hone their tactics, as the business end of the tournament awaits.