TOTTENHAM TASTE VICTORY AT GUANGZHOU’S EXPENSE
Tottenham Hotspur eased to a straightforward 2-0 win against a feisty but limited Guangzhou Evergrande team, ending their debut Al Kass experience on a high note.
For both sides, it was a case of what might have been. The previous evening, Guangzhou had been five minutes away from qualifying for the knockout stage, only for Aspire Academy to muster a late, late goal against Benfica to finish above the Chinese on goal difference.
Tottenham, meanwhile, had roared into Al Kass 2018, dominating Kashiwa Reysol in their opening match – the best of the tournament so far - yet a tale of unconverted opportunities and ill fortune hitting the post on a few occasions led to defeat in a game they had dominated. The hectic back to back fixture list then worked against the Londoners, as they were required to play again just 24 hours later and, visibly jaded, succumbed to PSG by four goals to two.
Still, Spurs’ rich potential was there for all to see, and it was once again on display against Evergrande, as they took the lead within five minutes when winger Maurizio Grippaldi escaped down the right and cut the ball back for Max Robson to lash home first time.
Guangzhou had adopted a determined approach in their previous matches, even when four down to Benfica, and their perseverance also shone through against Tottenham. Well-organised and defensively robust, they reacted to conceding early by carving out a couple of chances, although they did not unduly trouble Spurs keeper Kacper Kurylowicz.
As half time approached, Spurs looked to extend their lead. The lively Grippaldi played a long, diagonal ball over the top that Enock Asante sprinted onto, only for Zhihao Zhang to make a fabulous recovery tackle as the striker bore down on goal. The incident encapsulated much of the first 45, with Spurs’ expansive instincts generally stifled by the tough-tackling Chinese who put more men behind the ball in a solid defensive stance.
However, five minutes into the second half, this tough-tackling tendency would have consequences, when Asante was upended inside the Evergrande penalty area. Referee Ali Al Haddad pointed to the spot without hesitation. The Spurs striker got to his feet to send keeper Xiaofeng Wang the wrong way and slot the penalty home, claiming his third goal of the tournament.
Tottenham were now dominating, as Guangzhou sat ever deeper, with lone striker Pahaerding Airexiding isolated on the halfway line, just as he had been during the 4-0 defeat to Benfica in Evergrande’s Al Kass debut match.
By way of contrast, Tottenham poured forward in numbers at every opportunity, only to be crowded out in a congested Evergrande penalty area. A succession of half chances came and went, and a stalemate ensued, with Spurs comfortably holding on to their two-goal advantage.