The third edition of the Al Kass International Cup began on 13 January 2014, with a troupe of elite parachutists descending on the pristine football pitches of Aspire Zone as part of a hugely entertaining opening ceremony.

Each member of the aerial team, from the National Academy for Professional Training, flew a flag featuring the participating teams’ official badges, touching down on the turf to the delighted applause of a capacity crowd.

The tournament has been organised in conjunction with Al Kass, Aspire Zone Foundation and Qatar Football Association, and will highlight the potential of football’s future stars, many of whom will be returning to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals if they can maintain their present rate of progress.

The opening ceremony was attended by Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Organising Committee, Issa Al Hitmi, Chairman of the Al Kass Organising Committee, and Tournament Director Hamad Al Mannai. Al Thawadi. said:

We welcome prestige tournaments such as the Al Kass International Cup, with its focus on grass roots development of the younger generation…As we look to the future, we are keen to provide a platform for Qatar’s most talented players to test themselves against elite contemporaries from all over the world. This competition provides an ideal opportunity to gauge the progress of Qatar’s future footballing stars, and to promote the nation’s vision of assisting in the long-term development of the global game. We look forward to welcoming some of these players back in 2022.’

This year the tournament has attracted an unparalleled selection of Under-16 teams from some of Europe’s top clubs, including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, AC Milan, Porto, Paris Saint-Germain and Auxerre. Last year’s champions Fluminense of Brazil have returned to defend their crown, with the US and Japan also represented by Chicago Fire and Kashiwa Reysol respectively. Aspire Qatar and Aspire International complete the line-up, featuring some of Aspire Academy’s most prominent footballing talents.

Following the opening ceremony, the inaugural match between FC Barcelona (FCB) and last year’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain PSG) got underway. Football legend Bora Milutinovic, one of only two managers in history to have coached five different teams in World Cup tournaments, performed the competition’s ceremonial kick-off.

The opening game offered an example of the abundance of talent on display at the Al Kass International Cup, with an athletic PSG side taking an early lead before being quickly pegged back by their Catalan rivals. The game offered a contrast in styles, with FCB’s superb ball retention skills ultimately prevailing over PSG’s powerful approach. Despite a classy hat-trick from Paris striker Odsonne Edouard, the match ended 4-3 in Barcelona’s favour, providing a thrilling introduction to the footballing fiesta ahead.

Later in the evening, Aspire International took on Real Madrid, with Auxerre versus Fluminense completing the first day’s programme. The action continues for the next 11 days, with free entry and a host of spectator prizes on offer. Tuesday’s line-up features Real Madrid vs Porto, Aspire Qatar vs Chicago Fire, and FC Barcelona vs Kashiwa Reysol, with the first game getting underway at 3:30 pm.