January 27, 2018


Kashiwa Reysol delivered an outstanding display of fortitude and tactical brilliance to overcome strong favourites Real Madrid and advance to the Al Kass 2018 semifinals.

Repeating a pattern established in their previous games, Reysol defended stoutly throughout and sought to hit their opponents on the counterattack, while absorbing continual pressure from a highly accomplished Madrid side who created enough chances to win several matches.

The Madridistas were in command from the first whistle and, just three minutes in, were almost in front when Alvaro De Frias collected the ball in a central area just outside the box and curled a delicious left-footed strike that looked destined for the top corner, only for Reysol keeper Leo Kokubo to make an athletic save, diving to tip the ball over the bar.

The chance was indicative of Madrid’s early dominance, with De Frias – playing ‘in the hole’ behind strike partner Juan Latasa – pulling the strings. But on eight minutes, Kashiwa – as they have done so often in the past at Al Kass – ripped up the formbook, with Mao Hosoya capitalising on a goalmouth scramble to fire the Japanese into an unexpected lead.

It was a lead they held for just one minute because, with the very next attack, Real were level. Jorge Camunas picked the ball up midway inside Reysol’s half, and advanced unchallenged before shooting hard and low past Kokubo from the edge of the area.

With parity quickly restored, the match began to develop into a fascinating contest of contrasting styles, with Madrid enjoying plenty of possession, only for their precise build-up play to be frequently disrupted by the highly disciplined Reysol backline, who then looked to feed their forwards in the hope of launching rapid counterattacks.

The tactic worked to perfection on 23 minutes when Fumiya Unoki was set free through the middle and shot, his effort well-saved by Real keeper Toni Ribera. However, the ball was only half-cleared and instantly returned to the area. With the static Madrid defence appealing in vain for offside, Hiryu Okuda slotted into the bottom left corner.

And, on the half hour mark, they sprung Real’s offside trap once more, with Okuda running clear – despite a suspicion of offside – only for his shot to be deflected wide.

On 38 minutes, Madrid coach Manual Fernandez made an early switch, withdrawing Carlos Gonzalez for fellow midfielder Eneko Gines, as Los Blancos patiently attempted to pick a way through Reysol’s well-drilled formation, but mainly confined to long-range efforts.

With the interval three minutes away, De Frias smashed another superb effort from outside the area, which Kokubo was once again equal to, as Kashiwa saw out the first half with their one-goal advantage maintained.

Within seconds of the restart, however, Real almost drew level when substitute Christian Garcia tested Kokubo from eight yards out, the Reysol keeper reacting smartly to ensure he was not beaten at his near post. Undaunted, the Spanish youngsters continued to fashion opportunities and, with the game an hour old, their patience paid off.

Camunas beat his man down the left and delivered an inviting cross that Latasa rose to meet, planting a firm header to square the score at 2-2.

With 20 minutes remaining, Latasa nearly put Madrid in front with another fine header, only for his effort to come back of the crossbar and bounce to safety. Incredibly, just two minutes later, Garcia also thundered a header against the woodwork.

Kashiwa were now struggling to cope with Real’s attacking potency and, within seconds, Garcia had the ball in the net, having run clear and rounded Kokubo before applying a side-footed finish, only for the referee to signal offside – a decision that the Madrid bench loudly contested.

Real were beginning to get on top of Kashiwa, yet the Spaniards were never fully in control, nor entirely comfortable. The game was reminiscent of Reysol’s opener against Tottenham, where Kashiwa had taken the lead against the run of play three times en route to a 3-2 victory, despite the London side dominating throughout.

And, with five minutes remaining, Reysol almost delivered a sucker punch, when
substitute Koki Takeda got on the end of a cross from the left and somehow contrived to hit the post, with keeper Ribera stranded.

Madrid had been warned and, with a penalty shootout looming, the irrepressible Japanese snatched a sensational victory. Sohki Tamura got on the ball midway inside Real’s half, dashing forward before feeding Hosoya, who made no mistake from six yards out.

Kashiwa will now play the highly fancied Benfica on Monday evening in a clash that seems certain to enthral the Aspire crowd. And, based on their track record, the formidable Japanese side will firmly believe they are capable of delivering yet another upset.