Paris Saint-Germain advanced to the final of Al Kass 2018 after overcoming a stern examination set by Espérance de Tunis, and prevailing by four goals to two.
Going into this game PSG knew that — at the very least — they would need to do something that no opponent of Espérance had managed up to now: score a goal against the wily Tunisians, the only team yet to concede in the tournament.
Once again, raucous support for the North Africans was provided from the stands. Indeed, if trophies were handed out for the tournament’s most passionate – and vocal – crowd, there would be no contest. The Espérance fans have been magnificent throughout, helping to make Al Kass 2018 a truly memorable contest.
In the early stages, Tunis were all hustle and bustle, working tirelessly to knock PSG out of their stride and disrupt the French youngsters’ slick passing game. The tactic was largely successful, with few clear chances created in the opening period.
But on 15 minutes, Saint-Germain went in front after a corner from the right was not dealt with and, in the ensuing melee, captain Loic Mbe Soh turned the ball in from close range.
Astonishingly, the lead was doubled within a minute, after a rapid move down the PSG left. Tunis keeper Fares Jebali was quickly off his line to snuff out the danger, but the ball escaped his grasp and was cleared directly into the path of the onrushing Arthur Zagre, who needed no second invitation to rifle home.
From a position of relative comfort, a shell-shocked Espérance were now struggling to retain their composure. And, on 28 minutes, they were three down. PSG worked the ball well out to the left, and Tanguy Coulibaly supplied a low, teasing cross that forward Alexandre Fressange met with a first time shot into the near corner.
Tunis looked dead and buried, only to be handed an improbable lifeline five minutes later. PSG keeper Yanis Saidani received a backpass under no pressure, but his attempted clearance was cut out by Zied Berrima on the right of the area. He squared for captain Mobtassar Triki to pass into an open goal, sparking scenes of delirium on the terraces.
With seven minutes to the break, Tunis almost reduced the deficit further, when Berrima’s spectacular free kick from the edge of the box sailed narrowly over the bar.
It was now PSG’s turn to feel the pressure as Espérance mounted a series of attacks. The Tunisians’ physical approach occasionally strayed beyond fair play and, on 41 minutes, midfield hardman Wael Dhouibi’s wild lunge at Soh earned a well-deserved yellow card, marking the final significant act of a breathtaking first half.
There was no let up as the second period got underway, and PSG re-established their three-goal cushion with the first attack of the half.
Adil Aouchiche set off an a marauding run from his own half, dancing past several challenges and spraying the ball out left to Ruben Providence, before advancing into the area and getting on the end of a low cross to finish from six yards out. It was a goal worthy of the grandest stages.
With the game approaching the hour mark, the shadows lengthened on Aspire Pitch 5 as the sun began to set behind the main stand. And, with it, Espérance’s hopes of making the final of Al Kass 2018 began to recede. PSG were now in total command, refusing to be put out of their stride by the continual chanting and singing of the Tunis fans, who remained in high spirits despite their team’s travails.
And then, implausibly, Tunis were once again back in the game on 68 minutes. There seemed to be little danger as PSG centre back Soh attempted to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick on the right, until his pocket was picked by the tenacious Farouk Mimouni, who cut back from the byline before firing low into the far corner.
Tunis poured forward in numbers in search of a third goal that would set up a nailbiting finale, but there was to be no further reward for their persistence, as PSG held out for a merited victory.
Having won the inaugural tournament in 2012, and again triumphed in 2015, the young Parisians are chasing a unique hat-trick. After this accomplished performance, few would rule out their chances.