|Season 58||L||4 - 3||Tournament (Group Phase)|
Birds Hit Form
A vintage attacking display from Grilled Birds saw them stride into the semifinals of the Singapore Cup for the seventh time in their history, as they ousted a safety-first Villains F.C. side, by six goals to two. Villains F.C., spiritual successor to the FC ~ vile team that had eliminated the Birds eighteen seasons ago, had pinned their fate on being able to contain Grilled with a formidable 4-5-1, only to fall prey to a sparkling series of offensive set-plays.
Punters had been torn between the choices in the lead-up, with the Villains having won their last four matches, comfortably scoring three in each, and conceding just the once. Grilled in contrast had just been beaten by fellow quarterfinalists Random Curiosity FC - but they had been finding the goals too in recent weeks, which when added to their experience in the Cup, made them out to be at least competitive against the II.3 high-fliers.
With French Number Ten Julien Picque failing a late fitness test, Belgian wingback-turned-head coach Javier Méndez Mora would stick to the XI that brushed Isle of Flames aside last Wednesday, down to the last man; there were slight tactical touches, though, with their wingers lined up slightly narrower than the usual, as were their centrebacks.
This gave a fragmented stop-and-start vibe to the early minutes, as Grilled again found stringing the right passes together a slow-going endeavour. Lee Lee Hao
, who had been at the forefront of so many Grilled moves over the weekend, again found his match in the Villains' Swiss captain Christophe Campet, and it increasingly looked as if the speedy Miguel Espinosa, always poised to nip in behind the Birds' back two, would grab the opener from some rapid counter.
The Birds' Gene Filippone
muzzled the Spaniard sufficiently through the first half-hour, fortunately, and this was enough for Tian Yonghang
to remove that possibility with some fast thinking of his own. With a choreographed surge by Low Aik Jia
and Chow Ying Lee
down the left, space opened on the right that Tian immediately moved into, and he lapped up Woon Shun An
's simple forward ball to send it spinning in out of Hilario Aguilera's reach.
The breaking of the deadlock injected some much-needed urgency and vitality into an affair that had been verging on moribund, and Villains staged some fine pushes of their own, Vittorio Martorella forcing Low awkwardly back more than once. Low would have the last laugh as he won a 39th minute corner with Martorella committed up front, and Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
outclimbed S$7 million centreback Giancarlo De Bianchi to earn his bread and butter.
Villains then finally managed to reply through Martorella, but Grilled would restore their two-goal lead going into the break. As the half entered time added on, Lee and Low cut a broad swath down the HitMen Arena pitch, as they dealt precise give-and-gos at pace. Villains, to their credit, retreated in good order, but ultimately Chua Hock Qiang proved no match for Chow Ying Lee
over five yards, the amount by which Chow pulled wide to open up for a successful potshot.
That was cause for wild celebration from the Grilled stands, and the Birds tried to keep the tempo going after the restart. The fifteen-minute interval had sapped some of their momentum, though, and it would be Villains F.C. who would come out firing. Eager to get to the semis again, which they had achieved against United Warrior Team at this stage in their previous cup run, they spared no effort testing Grilled's weak wing defences; Haris Mustafa, hero of that day, was also spotted warming up.
They indeed pulled back once again in the 58th minute, as Spanish star Balbino Breixas blazed inside Wong Ping Shun
, then pushed it by Woon Shun An
, before outpacing all comers to slot it between Wong Tian Han
's legs. It was a superb individual goal worthy of all the replays that it would get, and Mora wasted no time in summoning veteran Tay An Jun to him, and dispensing new instructions.
Whatever they were, they didn't have an opportunity to sink it before Grilled opened the gap again. They had Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
to thank for that, as the wily forward made up for his loss of pace, with a finely-honed sense of drama; after baiting Aviad Narkis to him with a slow shimmy, it was hard to tell if Mohd Safri left his leg in place for the fullback to take out. Hans Laustsen gave him the benefit of the doubt, to uproar from the Villains support, and Wong Ping Shun
confidently blasted an unsaveable penalty to the top left corner.
With time slipping away, Daniel Yet was next to receive special instructions, but the tide had irrevocably turned by now. Villains' loyal homegrown duo attempted to push the pace further, but Grilled were used to operating in such an environment, and quickly got the better of their next exchange. Campet's rare mistake was sent zipping to Tian Yonghang
, who saw the perfect chip that would put Grilled 5-2 up.
It was hard going for the Villains at this stage, and they had no response to this reawakened Birds attack. Mohd Safri was booked for going in hard on Chua Hock Qiang, which got him redoubled jeers from the opposition fans. However, that did nothing to stem Grilled's fire, and three minutes after Tian nearly got his hat-trick, finding the bar from just inside the six-yard box, Wong Ping Shun
's opportunistic inside run was picked out by the Grilled skipper, to send the Birds through in style.