By Sports Reporter/Doha
Aspire Football Dreams overcame Kashiwa Reysol by a single goal, ensuring that both teams made it out of Group B at the expense of Benfica.
The Japanese side had fought hard to overcome a battling Portuguese team just 24 hours previously, and had done so playing with only 10 men for most of the match. Aspire had only drawn against the Glorioso, and therefore needed to pick up at least a point against Reysol to be sure of making it to the knockout stage.
Aspire began as they meant to go on, bursting straight out of the blocks to race into the lead while Aspire Zone spectators were still taking their seats.
There had seemed little danger when Aladji Diallo played a short pass to Alhassane Soumah 25 yards out, but the explosive midfielder took a touch before firing an unstoppable shot high into the top left corner from 25 yards.
The early strike galvanised the team in grey, and shell-shocked Kashiwa struggled to gain a foothold as a buoyant Aspire continued to press with their powerful brand of fast-paced possession football. Slowly though, Reysol began to grow into the game, and on 16 minutes forced two corners in quick succession to relieve some of the early pressure.
The Japanese had lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with deep-lying midfielder Yudai Yamashita charged with breaking up play in front of his defence. This was no easy task, as the hard running Aspire side gave no quarter against a similarly tenacious Kashiwa, and a fascinating tactical duel ensued.
Kashiwa’s victory the previous evening meant that they were certain to qualify for the knockout stages, and this knowledge perhaps influenced their cautious tactical approach. However, their lack of attacking ambition meant that they lived dangerously on occasion, not least on the half-hour mark when Aspire’s Konan N’Dri dribbled past several defenders before shooting from just inside the area, only to see his effort flash wide of the right-hand post.
Despite holding the lead, Aspire continued to push forward in search of a second goal and, on 38 minutes, lightning-fast winger Aboubakar Karamoko came close after cutting in from the left and firing a powerful low drive that keeper Leo Kokubo did well to smother.
On the stroke of half time Karamoko was again involved, teasing Japanese right back Riku Tanaka before cutting back to Soumah, who almost bookended the half with another marvellous strike, lashing a rising shot goalwards from the edge of the area that Kokubo just managed to tip over.
The early stages of the second half settled into a predictable pattern, with few chances created, and the knowledge that a 1-0 victory for Aspire would guarantee the progress of both sides perhaps reducing the intensity of the contest.
Kashiwa often resorted to long balls over the top, attempting to find left-winger Yuto Yamada or isolated attacker Shunta Nakamura, but the pacey Aspire defence remained watertight.
A succession of substitutions added to the impression that each manager was intent on preserving energy for the battles ahead. Given that the fixtures come thick and fast at Al Kass, this tactic is perhaps understandable but, whatever the reason, the third quarter of the game undoubtedly saw a drop in excitement levels.
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