The semi-finals of the 25th Canon Lion City Cup kicked off on Friday, with Arsenal taking on a seemingly impenetrable Corinthians side that had yet to concede a goal so far.
Both sides made positive starts to the game, advancing confidently and purposefully into their respective opposing thirds and at the same time fashioning good breaks. The abundance in pace present in both teams was effectively utilised, making for a highly entertaining, end-to-end opening few minutes.
It was the Brazilians however, who took the initiative, creating the opening chance of the game in the 10th minute as Matheus da Silva failed to keep his shot down following a neat exchange of passes with Leonardo Rodrigues.
The South Americans gradually began to dictate play and move the ball about, imposing their ever-present physical and technical deftness that has made them such a force to be reckoned over the course of this tournament.
A good spell of Corinthians possession and some fluent, intricate build-up play resulted in Marcio Zanardi’s men taking the lead with Da Silva’s deflected long-range effort beating Harry Girling comprehensively.
The boys from Brazil continued to dominate, retaining possession efficiently and effectively as they stretched the Arsenal defence with a series of flowing, well-constructed attacks.
In the 29th minute, the ceaseless Corinthians pressure finally told. Rodrigues bagged his fifth goal of the competition, doubling their lead with an emphatic finish into the bottom corner having been slipped through by man-of-the-match Miullen Carvalho’s clever reverse pass.
The first-half drew to a close with Corinthians quite literally passing the North Londoners off the pitch as Patrick Ampadu’s men were left chasing shadows.
Corinthians started the second-half as per: taking the game to Arsenal from the get go, so nearly adding a third when Rodrigues lost his marker to meet Da Silva’s inch-perfect corner, only to fail to direct his header goal-wards.
This proved to be a rude wakeup call for the boys in red, who in truth hadn’t gotten into the game at all.
Arsenal, now seemingly filled with renewed hope and belief, began to take more care whilst in possession of the ball. For the first time in the match they stretched Corinthians’ lines, causing problems for their defence courtesy of Christopher Willock’s mazy runs down the left.
Now on the back-foot, the Brazilians changed their approach as they opted for a more reserved, counter-attacking game.
Despite Arsenal’s extended spell on the ball and vastly more expansive approach, they lacked quality in the final-third, with their attacking exploits time and again resulting in turnovers of possession.
Contrastingly, Corinthians, despite spending significantly less time on the ball, looked far more dangerous on the break, moving the ball efficiently and accurately and could have added two or three more if not for a mixture of poor finishing and some superbly timed last-ditch tackles and blocks from Arsenal centre-half Ernest Okoh.
As the full-time approached, Corinthians began to reinstate their dominance, utilizing their sheer athleticism to full effect, cleverly running down the clock and drawing needless fouls from a quite visibly frustrated Arsenal side.
This result means Corinthians will face PSV Eindhoven in the final, with the Dutch team having beaten Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2 in the other semi later on.
Despite another dominant showing from his side, Zanardi refused to get ahead of himself ahead of this Sunday’s final.
“Both teams are great teams and I have a lot of respect for them,” he said.
“But it does not who we play. I am doing my job and my job is to get us to the final, which has already been done so whoever comes in the final, we just have to work hard and overcome them.”
Despite what was a below-par performance from his team, Ampadu insisted that the Lion City Cup experience as a whole was beneficial to his boys.
“We’ve done alright,” he said.
“I think it has been a fantastic experience for the boys to come over here and experience the sun, the crowd and the press conferences and the interviews. It’s been a fantastic experience and overall it’s been a plus.”