It had been billed as the game of the day and Thursday evening’s clash between Aspire International and Schalke did not disappoint. Intense and fast-paced, this was a match in which both teams threw caution to the wind in a bid to assert themselves as tournament favourites.
Last year’s winners Aspire International have a considerable physical presence, and undoubtedly know how to use their physicality to good effect.
Schalke 04 - certainly not a small side - were bullied off the ball at times during the game’s opening ten minutes as they struggled to get out of their own half.
The Germans’ backline survived the initial onslaught but were eventually breached in the 16th minute when Aspire’s Kuk Hyon Ri latched onto a defence-splitting through-ball from Ishmael Baidoo. One-on-one with Schalke goalkeeper Hendrik Sauter, Ri made no mistake as he fired into the bottom corner.
Five minutes later and Aspire almost doubled their advantage when defender Silas Gnaka received the ball on the edge of the Schalke box after being picked out by the lively Baidoo. Gnaka attempted to rifle the ball into the bottom left corner but his effort was narrowly wide.
This close call seemed to provide the rude awakening that Schalke needed and, as the first half drew to a close, the Germans began to show their quality. In the 41st minute, highly-rated forward Felix Kaefferbitz wriggled past three Aspire defenders before getting his shot away inside the box. Fortunately for Aspire keeper Francis Uzoho, the effort was a relatively tame one and was easily dealt with.
Schalke continued to apply the pressure and, two minutes before the interval, Kaefferbitz threatened again after robbing Aspire defender Song Il Jang of possession before unleashing a powerful strike that narrowly missed the target.
The first half drew to a close with the contest still very much alive, but Aspire soon reasserted their dominance as the second half began.
Dashing hopes of a Schalke comeback was 16-year-old Logan Rogerson who only needed to tap the ball home, following a cross into the box from the ever-industrious Baidoo, to make the score 2-0.
Schalke 04 have never played in this tournament before, and their inexperience was starting to show against an immensely determined Aspire International side whose intensity never wavered.
For long periods of the second half Aspire recorded almost 70% possession as they used their superior passing abilities to retain the ball, and constant pressing to win it back.
On 69 minutes Aspire almost struck their third when newly introduced substitute Oralkhan Omirtayev latched onto a through-ball down the middle from teammate Jean Amani. Rushing off his line, Schalke keeper Hendrik Lauter did well to block the incoming shot with his hand but was then forced to scramble the ball off his line after his initial save failed to halt the momentum of the ball.
With Schalke struggling to pick themselves up off the floor and Aspire quite happy to see the match out, this was to be the game’s last real moment of drama. As the referee blew for full-time, Schalke looked visibly frustrated with their performance and the result – even if it was probably a fair reflection on the performances of both two teams.
The Germans have just 24 hours to regroup as they prepare to go head-to-head with Real Madrid at 7.45pm on Friday, in what will now be a critical Group B game.
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