Grilled passed with flying colours as they did the unthinkable and restrained S-League giants, the five-time Singaporean champions Herron, to a one-all draw. They may have done so in a desultory manner, playing negatively, but the players were clearly over the moon, and none more so than Ulf Hjortlind
, whose solo gem blew the crowd away.
Actually, neutral observers would have noted that it was Herron who had defeated themselves. Not that they had no reason to be confident, since they had triumphed handily 4-0 over last season's runners-up Team Singapore last week without top Argentinean winger Gabriel Humberto Andronegui, playmaker Jörn Borgstedt of former English champions Israel Crazy Dolphins fame, and national hotshot Shu Chit-Fu. More impressively, they won with a 4-5-1 formation.
The three were injured in a preseason friendly and a Cup game, but Andronegui and Chit-Fu were ready to face Grilled. Everything in the books pointed to a resounding Herron victory, but after some questionable passes from Herron, Grilled began to believe in themselves. In front of an eighty thousand people in the stands, Grilled picked at little mistakes in Herron's game and found themselves spurred. Siu-Yue wore Ju-Hau's mantle well, and they performed no worse than Herron's Swedish midfielders, all pros at the top of their game. Martinsson even gave Herron a little scare in the 8th minute as he ballooned a square ball by Dai-Lin.
Contrary to the common perception that a low-scoring match is boring, the game had the spectators on the edge of their seats as Grilled fought to contain an impatient Herron side used to winning. With the match very much in the balance, every move was critical and tactics brought to the fore as seldom seen. Herron's Agostinho was felled in the penalty area cleanly, then Wai-Ming was sheparded away from the danger zone a couple of times. Chit-Fu had the pick of the chances when he turned Alcántara beautifully and faced down Harlow, but the goalie made his first high-profile save when he parried Shi's effort. Daniel Håkansson got into the referee's book for taking Kek-Tjiang down.
The deadlock was broken in the 79th minute when the towering Håkan Strandstrand was in the right place to nod Kjell Askenbrant's corner into the left side of goal, where there was no man at the post. It was perceived to be Grilled's death knell, from the way the Herron players celebrated. The atmosphere became gloomy as even the die-hards had pinned their hopes on a goalless draw.
But for the genius of a certain Ulf Hjortlind
, it would have been so. The young Swede knew no fear as he started his dribble from twenty-five metres out, and passed one man, and then another. Pessimistic eyes in the stadium waited for the saving tackle that would stop this glorious but futile run, but it never came. As he passed player-coach Kjell Askenbrant, a good portion of the crowd was on its feet. His last obstacle was perhaps the most formidable of all, the Singaporean national keeper, Abd Rauf Mohd Nadzir, capped thirty-five times for his nation. All eyes were on Hjortlind as he approached Nadzir... then coolly placed the ball at the far post in a blink.
That was indisputiably the climax of the game, as Grilled crowded their defence to keep the draw, converting into a team of ten defenders. The crude style was at odds with the fantastic mood, and Grilled did indeed survive, although they lost Shen Kek-Tjiang
in the 88th minute after a bad challenge.