January 27, 2018


Paris Saint-Germain made it to the semi-finals of Al Kass 2018, winning a penalty shootout against Aspire Football Dreams in a game that the French youngsters could easily have lost.

Both sides had been quietly impressive in the group games, progressing to the knockout stage with a minimum of fuss. Stylistically, PSG and AFD are strikingly similar, combining solid organisation with technical prowess and high fitness levels.

AFD had the better of the opening exchanges, and Isaac Nuhu went close to opening the scoring on four minutes with a good effort from the left-hand corner of the area that curled just wide of the far post.

But, with the game 10 minutes old, PSG produced a moment of brilliance that almost broke the deadlock. Tanguy Coulibaly chipped a diagonal ball from the left into the path of Massinissa Oufella, advancing towards the penalty area, and the Paris captain smashed a rising drive against the crossbar.

Despite pre-match predictions of a cagey encounter, it was soon clear that the fourth of the quarter-finals was developing into an open match, and it was soon AFD’s turn to fashion a goalscoring chance, when Christian Otabil intercepted a sloppy back pass and went one-on-one with Trey Vimalin, but the keeper was equal to his first-time effort.

Nuhu put a free kick just wide from 25 yards out, as Aspire began to take control of proceedings, although PSG generally managed to restrict their opponents to shots from distance, with the AFD number 11 once again going close from the edge of the box on the half hour.

Five minutes later, PSG coach made a bold tactical move, with a like-for-like triple substitution. Perhaps the changes – highly unusual at such an early stage of the game — represented a tacit admission that PSG were struggling to match AFD’s energetic approach. Whatever the rationale, the gambit did little to alter the balance of play, with Aspire retaining control of the game for the remainder of the first half.

A fourth PSG substitution – this one enforced – was made shortly before the interval, with the injured Oufella making way for Anfane M’Ze. The injury was a blow for the Parisians, as their skipper – along with Coulibaly - had been among the side’s most influential performers.

As the second half got underway, it seemed clear that Aspire coach Serine Dia had instructed his players to get into the opponent’s penalty area and resist the temptation to shoot from distance.

The tactic almost paid off on 52 minutes when the impressive Nuhu lofted a ball into the area from deep on the left, which Sibiry Keita nodded over the onrushing Vimalin, only to see his effort bounce wide of the left post.

Aspire made a double change on the hour, with midfielder Djakaria Barro replacing defender Shafic Ssebyala, and Otabil withdrawn for fellow-striker Umar Lutalo, as coach Dia attempted to reinforce his attacking options.

AFD continued to dominate, but could not convert this dominance into goals, wasting chance after chance as the game drifted towards a seemingly inevitable penalty shotout.

But then, out of nowhere, referee Ali Al Haddad awarded a spot kick to Aspire, having spotted a handball from Adil Aouchiche as he jumped to defend a corner. Lutalo stepped up and put his shot low to Vimalin’s left but the keeper, at full stretch, produced a wonderful save to somehow keep the ball out and his side in the game.

The incident provided a spark which belatedly brought the match to life, as PSG began to mount attacks with a renewed sense of urgency. However, neither side could change the stalemate, and it was little surprise that the game finished goalless.

A tense shootout ended with PSG running out winners by 4-2, with Alexandre Fressange the hero of the hour as he converted the winning penalty.

The young Parisians will meet Esperance Tunis — a side that is yet to concede during Al Kass 2018 — in Monday’s second semi-final. A more clinical approach in front of goal will therefore be required if PSG are to reach the final.