Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
chimed in three minutes from time to send Grilled through to the semifinals of the SG Super Cup, as fifth edition finalists Random Curiosity FC threatened to send the Birds packing in the first clash between the two sides. Grilled claimed the lead twice, but Curiosity turned the tables through Antoine Bos' free-kick prowess, and nearly expelled the Birds before Tian and Mohd Safri rode to the rescue.
Like Grilled, their opponents needed all three points to have any hope of qualifying, and a draw was therefore useless to all participants. Curiosity certainly had the ability, rocking Scallop Soccer Team 5-3 in the second round of fixtures, but one-goal defeats to Ho Seh Liao and Be Champions FC have put them in a precarious position.
Curiosity made only two changes from the side that beat Scallop, with Dean Nightingale making way for Mohd bin Yusoff, and the injured Belgian Number Ten Jef Demarcke covered for by Ho Xin Shun. Grilled's most glaring introduction was the 19 year-old Dan Seng
in goal, with regular goalie Edmund Kryus
watching from a hospital bed.
For all of that, the team knew that it had to score to have any hope, and the impetus was therefore all on making it happen at the other end, with the defence focusing on booting it us as often as possible whenever they got the ball. Tian Yonghang
was only too eager to get the memory of a barren ninety minutes out of his mind as he danced on the right, sneaking a shot onto the post in the 27th minute on a pickup left by Abdul bin Jantan
Tian would have the satisfaction of beating veteran Italian custodian Gianluca D'Aprile on his next try, with a well-disguised grounder bent around him. Curiosity came right back, though, as usual free-kick taker Antoine Bos delegated the kick to Haji bin Omar to great effect, popping up by himself inside the box to ram a mighty header home, as Seng struggled to get close.
It was pure to-and-fro now as the Birds surged forward from the restart, and the attack came together in a rare moment of serendipity, with Chow and Tian both pulling off low-percentage passes in succession. Mohd Safri was prepared when the final ball got through to him, and he shielded it from Greek defender Paris Lidorikis for long enough to put it past D'Aprile.
The lead would not survive to half-time, as after a caution for Bolesław Świątek, Curiosity snatched possession back, and former U-20 winger Ang Tse Jian's balance was too much for Madaini to handle by himself. The Saudi has experience in buckets, but was still burnt by pure flair, and Ang drew Seng to him before centering it for a simple tap-in from Ibo Zetter.
With no net advantage to either side achieved at the break, the news from elsewhere was not encouraging for Curiosity, as Scallop led Be Champions FC 2-0. This implied that Champions would have to find three goals to make second place achievable for Curiosity, but they were not going to sit around and hope for the best.
Curiosity still needed to win this, and they went some way towards fulfilling their side of the equation in the 51st minute, after Seytek Djekshenkulov
carelessly upended Eng Soon Lee some twenty-five metres out. Not a problem for Bos, though, as the Frenchman drilled in his fifth of the tournament with frightening precision.
As if in agreement, Wilhem Larose duly followed up his reducer in the 47th minute with an equaliser for Champions in the 54th off a wonderful counterattack, and it looked as if it was only a matter of time before the two-time winners notched a third to send both themselves and Curiosity through. Grilled were beginning to get desperate, and Woon Shun An
didn't help the jumpiness with a messy tackle on Bos, for which he was booked.
Unable to do anything more, Curiosity were happy enough to sit back and wait for Champions to help out, and with penetration petering out, Niculae Stanca
was down to urging Gleb Dorogan
on for Abdul bin Jantan
, such that the popular Moldovan might just pull another of his magic moves out of his hat.
Dorogan was however not much of an upgrade, and his only contribution of note was trickling Curiosity skipper David Pla into taking him down for the third card of the night. It all pointed to the end for Grilled... until it was announced over the PA that Tuval Machnes had unexpectedly put Scallop back into the lead, with a first-time volley off a Teckenburg cross.
Some of the Curiosity players visibly sagged at the unwelcome information, and Madaini, sensing an opportunity, directed everybody else upfield. It was Curiosity's turn to feel the heat, but they handled Grilled's fevered offensives coolly, up to the point where Tian Yonghang
took the ball on his chest, then bounced it off his shoulder to scoot pass an amazed Mohd bin Yusoff. A magnificent dipping volley was next on the agenda, for a combination that will surely make Grilled's highlights compilation for the season.
With eight minutes to go, it had returned to a no-win for both sides, and by this time both coaches were on their feet shouting for their side to give it one last push. With everything on the line, it was ripe for an exceptional man to step up - and who else but Grilled icon Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
? Calm as anything, he ran into the Curiosity dangerzone, evaded a sliding challenger from Lidorikis while pushing the ball away from Zetter, before slotting it nonchalantly past D'Aprile.
That sent the Grilled fans into rapture as Stanca immediately sought to waste the remaining time away, dragging out the substitutions of Tian and Chow, to the Curiosity team's outrage. They very nearly made good their displeasure as Mohd bin Yusoff angled a header just wide in the last minute, and the Birds were in total chaos by the time referee Xing Daibiao saw fit to blow the final whistle, but all that was important was that advancement had been secured.