February 22, 2020
QUARTET TO RISK IT ALL FOR FINAL BERTH
From 12 teams that began the 2020 Alkass International Cup, each harbouring hopes and dreams of lifting the prestigious piece of silverware, now just four are left. One of Inter Milan, Mohammed VI Academy, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid will be the champions come Monday evening. But for now, they will have only one target – to ensure they reach Monday’s showpiece and not fall at this final hurdle.
Here is a look at the two semi-finals, how the four teams reached this stage and the players who have caught the eye of those packing the Aspire Zone in Doha and watching on TV and online from all over the world.
In the first match, surprise package Mohammed VI Academy will face their toughest test of the tournament so far, when they go head-to-head with mighty Real Madrid. However, having seen off the challenge of holders Rangers in the quarterfinals on Wednesday evening, the Moroccans will certainly not be overawed by the size of the task in front of them.
That memorable 3-2 triumph over the Scottish outfit was sealed by a match-winning header from striker Omar Sadik seven minutes from time. The Academy captain is certainly one player Real will have to keep their eyes on, as that strike was one of four goals he has bagged in the tournament so far. Sadik first impressed in the group stages when his hattrick, including one from the penalty spot, completed a 3-0 victory over Turkish side Altinordu FK. And, even in the 3-1 reverse to Inter Milan, the burly frontman left his mark on the Italian backline, even though he was often starved of service from the flanks.
Two other players have found the net for the Academy en route to the last-four - Hassan Aqboub, whose double helped in the defeat of Rangers and earned him the man-of-the match honour, and midfielder Mohammed Jazouli. The latter, however, is suspended for the showdown with the Spaniards after being sent off late on in the clash with the Glaswegians.
As is often the case at Al Kass, the Moroccan outfit has grown into the tournament with each game. Real Madrid, on the other hand, have been nothing short of sensational from the first whistle. They were the only side to gain maximum points in the group stages with victories over FC Zenit (5-3) and Sporting Clube De Portugal (4-1). They then put Kashiwa Reysol to the sword in the last-eight, with an emphatic 7-0 thrashing on Thursday evening.
Goals have flowed across the team for Madrid, with no less than eight different marksmen sharing the 15 goals plundered so far (and they’ve also benefited from an own goal for good measure). Leading the way is David Pecellin with four goals, closely followed by Nico Paz with three. Abraham Marina has bagged a brace as has Yeray Perez. Also on the mark for Los Blancos have been Samuel Polo, Ekaitz Redondo Borrajo, Eric Alcon and Jaime Puertas. Playmaker Paz has caught the eye throughout, his keen eye for goal allied to a deft touch, providing a reliable supply line for the frontmen.
On balance, Madrid go into the clash as favourites, but the Mohammed VI Academy are certain to prove stubborn opponents. And, if they can get Sadik on the ball, they will fancy their chances.
The second semi-final pits two European giants against one another, with Inter Milan matching up against Paris Saint-Germain. It is perhaps true to say that the Italians have not been at their sparkling best during the tournament, but like all good sides have done enough when it matters, and find themselves in the last-four once more. The club is playing in its third Alkass International Cup, and on their other two appearances Inter have reached this stage of the competition. They will be determined to go one better this time round, but will have to be at their very best to dismantle a supremely talented PSG side.
Milan began the tournament well, seeing off fellow semi-finalists Mohammed VI Academy 3-1 in their first group encounter. Amadou Sarr’s brace and one from teammate Tommaso Clerici helped defeat the North Africans. However, they were somewhat out of sorts in their second game, losing 1-0 to Altinordu FK, and only qualifying for the knockout stages in second place.
Inter, though, reverted to traditional Italian football type in their quarter-final encounter against hosts Aspire Academy, securing a narrow 1-0 victory. Keeping everything tight at the back, they had to wait until nine minutes from time for the all-important goal, Sarr’s header proving the difference in the end. The big striker is certainly one of the players the PSG defence will have to watch out for.
For their part, Paris Saint-Germain have made it through to the semi-finals in excellent fashion, starting with an undefeated group campaign in which they first blanked Kashiwa Reysol 3-0 before sharing a 2-2 draw with FC Barcelona. They were then too powerful for FC Zenit, who they despatched 5-0 on Thursday afternoon in the last-eight.
Striker Ilyes Housni really made an impression in the quarter-final, firing home terrific treble to add to the goal he grabbed in the draw with Barcelona. Just one behind in the team’s scoring charts is Ismael Gharbi, who has netted three times so far, with Yohan Tade, Enzo Tayamoutou and Wilson Odobert the other PSG players to register on the scoresheet.
A tight Italian rearguard up against a potent French attack are the tasty ingredients for what promises to be a memorable match to complete this year’s Alkass International Cup semi-finals. This game looks too close to call, and might even be decided by a penalty shootout. A dramatic Saturday for the final four sides certainly awaits at the Aspire Zone.