January 31, 2018


Paris Saint-Germain took on Kashiwa Reysol in the final of the 2018 Al Kass International Cup, and produced a gripping performance worthy of football’s grandest stages.

A super blue blood moon was on the rise in the sky above Aspire Zone as the players took the field, but this celestial spectacular was more than matched by the enthralling game that followed. And, ultimately, Reysol were eclipsed by two goals to one, as PSG became the first team to lift three Al Kass championships.

It was all action from the get-go, and Kashiwa almost took a shock lead within 20 seconds of the kick off, when PSG centre back Curtis Faiwoo’s careless pass across his own area was intercepted by Mao Hosoya, but the pacey striker fired wide when he ought to have done better.

His teammate Hayato Fujimoto more than made up for the miss on four minutes, however, when he smashed an incredible shot from wide on the right that rocketed over the head of keeper Trey Vimalin and into the top corner. It was a stunning start to an engrossing contest.

Despite falling behind so early in the game, the young Parisians refused to panic, and patiently played the ball around in search of an opening in Reysol’s overstaffed backline. On 17 minutes, Tanguy Coulibaly went close with a curling effort from the edge of the area, a sign of the decisive influence that he would exert on the game.

However, it was already clear that PSG would need to persevere if they were to engineer a breakthrough, as Reysol reverted to the tactics that had served them so well in advancing to the final. They sat deep, often with ten men behind the ball, and challenged the opposition to get past them. And, in goalkeeper Leo Kokubo, they had a highly accomplished shot stopper to provide a formidable last line of defence.

But Kokubo was helpless when, on 33 minutes, Coulibaly popped up 12 yards out to get on the end of a low cross, his first-time finish giving the Kashiwa number one no chance.

As the second half got underway, PSG’s onslaught on the Reysol goal became relentless. And, in the 54th minute, their pressure paid off when Kashiwa captain Keita Ide was adjudged to have handled inside the area as he stretched to charge down a cross from the right. Referee Moatassim Ahmed pointed to the spot and Coulibaly made no mistake, scoring his second of the night to put PSG 2-1 in front.

Reysol were now forced to tweak their tactics, committing extra men forward whenever they were able to advance into the PSG half. With 25 minutes remaining, this readjustment almost paid off when Hosoya lobbed the onrushing Vimalin from the right of the penalty area, only for the ball to be cleared off the line.

Of course, Kashiwa’s newfound attacking approach demanded superior fitness levels to ensure they could quickly get behind the ball once possession was lost. Initially, the Japanese youngsters looked equal to the task, working tirelessly to slot back into a 5-4-1 formation whenever PSG attacked.

And, with 15 minutes remaining, Reysol almost forced an equaliser, when Hosoya again found space on the right and fired in a shot that looked destined for the far corner, only for Vimalin to touch it round the post.

As the clock ticked down, it was PSG’s turn to get men behind the ball, their defenders doubling up on attackers to rebuff incessant Kashiwa pressure.

With normal time completed, three added minutes of nail-biting drama ensued, but the Parisians held firm to lift the Al Kass International Cup for an unprecedented third time.