Action during the match between Aspire Academy team and Arsenal during the Al Kass International Cup yesterday. Picture: Fadi al-Assaad
By Sports Reporter/Doha
Arsenal put in a highly professional performance to defeat a plucky Aspire Academy team by three goals to null on Sunday evening. Going into the game, hopes were high for Aspire after they had recorded the biggest victory of the group stages, a 6-1 mauling of Vissel Kobe. Although Arsenal had only beaten the Japanese by the odd goal in five, it was obvious that the Gunners would provide the Qataris with a far sterner test than they had encountered in their opener, and so it proved.
The London side dominated the early proceedings and almost went ahead within two minutes, when captain Kaylen Hinds latched on to a left-sided corner and flicked a back-heeled volley narrowly over. It proved a temporary reprieve for the Qataris as Arsenal took the lead after five minutes. Stephy Mavididi, a hat-trick hero against Kobe, continued his hot streak by turning his man and firing hard and low into the right corner from 12 yards out.
Aspire struggled to get a foothold in the game, and on 14 minutes they fell further behind when Christopher Willock pulled the ball back from the left, with Donovan firing into the top left corner from distance after three successive shots had been blocked by the valiant Aspire defence.
Left-winger Willock was in inspired form, and on 25 minutes he put the visitors three goals in front, cutting in from the left and expertly curling a low ball into the far corner.
Aspire found themselves chasing shadows as a ruthless Arsenal side bossed possession, seemingly able to cut open the opposition defence at will. To the enormous credit of the young Qatari players, they stuck to their task and maintained a disciplined shape despite the Gunners’ dominance. And, as the first half wore on the home side gradually settled, competing for every ball and attempting to disrupt Arsenal’s crisp passing moves.
The vocal home crowd cheered upped the volume as the second half began, and their support seemed to have an instant impact as Aspire almost reduced the deficit. Amro Surag made a great run down the left only for his progress to be curtailed by Marcus Tabi, who received a yellow card for his aggressive challenge. Khalid Mazeed’s beautifully flighted ball from the resultant free kick picked out Mohammed Abushahab at the far post, but he just failed to connect.
Tabi was joined in the referee’s notebook two minutes later by teammate Kostas Pilias for a foul on Abu Shahab. This time Majeed went straight for goal and keeper Oliver Keto could not hold on to the ball, recovering just in time to gather under pressure from captain Khalid Al-Naimi.
Aspire were growing into the game and created another fine chance on 55 minutes. Abushahab fed Hazem Shahata on the right of the area, and he skillfully beat his man before crossing for Surag, who just failed to get his head on the ball as a goal beckoned.
Arsenal almost increased their advantage around the 70-minute mark when three of their newly introduced substitutes combined well. Owen Moore broke down the right and fed Edward Nketiah on the left of the area, cutting back into the path of the advancing Savvas Mourgos who fluffed his lines from 12 yards out, the ball rolling to safety past the left-hand post. It said much for Aspire’s improved performance that this was the closest the Gunners came to scoring in the second period.
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