January 26, 2018

Pride on the Line in Consolation Round

Though the quarterfinals don’t start until today at the 2018 Al Kass International Cup, the competitive spirit hadn’t dimmed during the consolation round at Aspire Zone yesterday. With the cup out of reach, the four teams used the opportunity to improve their play and try new approaches.

The first match featured two teams who were no doubt wondering might have been. Guangzhou Evergrande were seconds away from reaching the quarterfinals before a last-gasp Aspire Academy goal put them out on goal differential. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, lost their opener to Kashiwa Reysol despite controlling the game, then suffered from fatigue in a loss to Paris Saint-Germain the next day.

Yesterday, in the first consolation match, the Spurs’ potential came to early fruition. Just five minutes in, Maurizio Grippaldi scooted up the right side and send a pass across to Max Robson, who one-timed it past keeper Xiaofeng Wang for a 1-0 lead.

The Spurs remained aggressive on the attack, but the Chinese defence, which had proved doughty all tournament, remained strong. Five minutes after the break, however, that toughness backfired on Guangzhou. A rough tackle on Tottenham forward Enock Asante in the area put him on the spot, and he calmly slotted the penalty home to double the lead. That was all the English side needed, leaving Guangzhou winless and the Spurs with some measure of redemption.

In the nightcap, Moroccan side Wyded AC pulled out a tense shootout win over Fenerbahçe, prevailing after a 1-1 tie in full time. Fenerbahçe struck first, capping their aggressive first half with a goal on 42 minutes. Omer Beyaz set up Oguzhan Ozgan with a crisp pass in the area to give the Turks a 1-0 lead at the break.

Wydad keeper Taha Mourid continued his star turn in the tournament, palming away two Fenerbahçe efforts that seemed netbound. On the other side, Omer Yalman saw virtually no action until the 65th minute, and then he likely wished he hadn’t. Substitute Ayman Rchoq evaded a defender and put a low shot on. Yalman got his hands on it, but what looked to be a routine save snuck by and into the net for the equaliser.

In the shootout, Fenerbahçe’s first effort went high and Mourid stopped the second, putting Wydad in the driver’s seat. But Yalman followed suit, and after the next three efforts were converted, he did it again, and the shootout went to sudden death.
After the teams traded conversions, Kaan Ayyildiz shot high for Fenerbahçe, leaving Yasser Alfirdaous to calmly knock home the winner for Wydad.

The quarterfinals kick off today, with the first game, between Benfica and AC Milan, at 3:30 pm, followed by Espérance de Tunis and Aspire Academy at 5:55 pm. Tomorrow sees Real Madrid and Kashiwa Reysol square off at 3:30 pm, with Paris Saint-Germain and Aspire Football Dreams following at 5:55 pm.