Escaping The Rap
Grilled had lone star Maikel Rotteveel
to thank for coming away with a point and staying on top of the table at The Cooking Pot, as the Dutch hotshot reaped a hat-trick in the final seven minutes of the match to save the tie. Free-spending Rapala NC were riding pretty after Spanish striker Oseguera collected his own three-bagger, and were odds-on to become the only remaining undefeated S-League side when Rotteveel burst into action.
It was a second top-of-the-table clash for Grilled, against an all-offensive Rapala NC side which appeared not to know the meaning of defence. That cost them dear as they were held to a 4-all draw by the team that never was in their last league game, but they were not about to change their swashbuckling approach, which served them well against a slow-starting Grilled Birds.
Oseguera, fresh off a hat-trick against the team that never was, took his first step towards a second one when he latched on to a low pass. Talib was missed as his replacement, Dani Spirig
, lacked a true defender's cynical approach, and allowed Oseguera to breeze past him when he could conceivably have prevented all the trouble with a tug on his arm. As it was, Oseguera was herded to one side by Lik-Tsun, but goalie Brad Beckman
was slow getting down and allowed the goal in at the near post.
The 36 year-old Beckman would have a torrid debut, as he appeared unaccustomed to playing before such large crowds. Rapala's second striker Yusman bin Salim, originally from the team that never was and Chemistry, displayed the credentials which allowed him to be selected for the national squad by looping a volley over a wandering Beckman to dig Grilled into a hole.
Grilled were always going to have chances against Rapala's famously porous defence, however, and Han Lik Tsun showed his brilliant reading of the game when he surged unnoticed down the left side of the field. Han Kok managed to pick the streaking centerback out with a perfectly weighted through ball, and Han sent it past Badrul Afzan bin Jaafar with a single stroke.
Sid then levelled in first-half injury time when he struck yet another curler right into the far corner of goal, the sort of free-kick that goalies may see but have no chance of getting to. The goal was followed by the appropriate Unreal Tournament announcement blared across the stadium, which certainly appealed to the younger set.
Being the home side, Grilled were hopeful of continuing in like vein and pressing Rapala's doubtful backline, but the visitors kept their cool and got back in front through a penalty. That came as a cruel blow, since Han could have done little to prevent the ball bouncing off his chest into his palm when he blocked a stinger from bin Salim, but the referee applied the rule of law and Oseguera put it past Beckman easily.
The packed stadium was plunged further into gloom when Rapala's incisive attacks yielded another goal in the 77th minute. There was little shame in getting taken apart by perhaps the best offensive line in Singapore for the moment, but it did mean that Grilled now needed three to win the match. Oseguera was the culprit again with a neat tap-in.
With Grilled having gotten little more than a yellow card for Sid's lunge at a winger, three goals did not seem to be forthcoming, but the fans were to be pleasantly shocked. Rotteveel reduced to 3-4 when he pulled the old switcheroo with van Liere as they cross each others' path on the left, and having shaken all defenders off his trail it was simple to get it into the net.
The excitement proved short-lived as young winger Mohd Amran bin Taufek outpaced the by-now sluggish Sid handily to reach a knock-on first, and despite Spirig sliding in to cover Taufek avoided the challenge with a neat sidestep and then threaded it in at the far post to restore Rapala's two goal advantage with just five minutes remaining.
That would be the cue for those of lesser faith to vacate their seats, had Rotteveel not neutralised that goal right from the kick-off. It was classic route one football, with Quah Han Kok
cutting like a hot knife through butter right through the middle of the disbelieving Rapala players, who didn't think he would try such a thing. With only Rotteveel in support, the two sprinted at great pace towards the enemy box, where Han Kok was finally tackled but no before releasing the ball to his partner. Playing on the advantage given, Rotteveel never looked back and drove it straight into the bottom corner.
Despite that, Grilled were still on the losing end, but Rotteveel had one last trick up his sleeve. Several in fact, as he utilised a terrific first touch to bring the ball away from his immediate marker, player-coach Roziman bin Ali. Throwing his body this way and that in a series of unsubtle feints, Rotteveel's energy won through as he broke past the last man to finish his hat-trick and salvage a tremendous draw.