Grilled's supporters couldn't get off their emotional rollercoaster in a crazy fortnight for the Birds. They yelled when Grilled ran away to a two-nil lead, they wept when Chemistry nullified it, and they chewed away hundreds of fingernails when it went to the dreaded penalty shootout after one hundred and twenty minutes of passion.
In those misty minutes when there exists neither past nor future, only two men facing each other at twelve metres, one to prevail and the other to concede, an Egyptian pharaoh was aroused. Ahmed Abed-Sulaiman
, once national keeper of his land, saved two spot-kicks to send Grilled on to the last four.
No-one objected after the matter was done, the entertainment value of the match surely far beyond the admission fees. It could have been settled far earlier and in a far safer way, though, had Grilled stayed back after going ahead. Who, however, had the heart to order them to engage in anti-football?
Chemistry boasted of a fourteen game winning streak, and had enjoyed back-to-back walkovers against disbanded club RainStorm, allowing them to put full focus on the Cup. They practised a counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation, which was unfortunately missing Leong Jian Tian from the front line.
Grilled had their problems in the S-League, finding last season's form hard to maintain. However, they had Au-Yong Siu-Yue
available back from suspension, and had no injury worries of their own. Nine players from the side that beat All Stars Team were retained, with Paullin and Tuan-Mu the new additions, Spirig moved up the wing, while Han Kok and Borup were rested.
Only nine minutes were on the clock when Ola Martinsson
devoured a great tap-on by Kek-Tjiang. It had been a majestic sweeping move up Chemistry's depleted midfield, with the defence too deep to stop it before the penetration was done. Martinsson had the ball for whole seconds to himself, and calmly tucked it into the net.
Grilled doubled their lead fifteen minutes on, as Chemistry's early jitters hadn't faded. Zou Kai-Xi tried to run out of defence, but had possession taken from him by a snappy Paullin tackle. The ball went in Wai-Kin's direction, and the striker, so lethal in the Cup but still goalless in the league, banged it first time past Belgian goalkeeper Yann Jolly.
It seemed all over with Grilled controlling the game, but they didn't count on some dogged defending by Chemistry. Several Grilled players also relaxed prematurely, and a lazy pass from Wai-Kin to Martinsson was cut out easily. It was kicked out to Remeli bin Abd Jalil on the right flank, who stunned Grilled with a direct sprint and cross to American forward Edward Mcfarland. Mcfarland went up with Bona, but had the better position and headed a glancing one into the far corner.
The second half saw Wai-Kin with an instant chance to pull Grilled away, as his teammates contrived to set him up for a clear shot in the penalty area. Siu-Yue sold a brilliant dummy, and Wai-Kin was not shy about pulling the trigger, but his unstoppable blast came off the underside of the bar and was held by Jolly.
Then came disaster in the 58th minute. Grilled's midfield was slow to return from another drawn-out siege, allowing Mcfarland free run of the middle. With options to his left and right, Mcfarland threatened to use one or the other while on a driving run through the center. Bona, the last man, dared not commit, and Mcfarland got onto his wrong side with a confident body fake, then got the Chemistry fans on their feet with a peerless grounder under Abed-Sulaiman.
Chemistry were virtually impregnable for the remainder of normal and extra time, as they sensed themselves on the verge of creating a new myth. Grilled were unwilling to commit too many men forward too, and the game remained tense but with only one real chance, when Jolly punched out from a corner right at Wai-Kin, but the striker missed by a metre.
So it was then that it came down to penalties, a situation Grilled do not excel in traditionally. The incessant rain only added to the heavy atmosphere, and the eighty thousand in the stands were silent as Danish forward Marjan Gvozdenovic gingerly placed the ball on the spot for the first strike.
He did his job all right, with a swirling ball right into the bottom right corner. Martinsson might have been pressured by the style in which it was taken, but the stone-faced Swede countered with a facsimile of Gvozdenovic's goal. Chemistry's captain Mirza Mustafic, a pacy sweeper from Bosnia, was next up. He made a short run up, and hit a perfectly good textbook penalty to the bottom left.
He was dismayed as the ball left his foot, however, for he had seen Abed-Sulaiman pounce in the right direction, all the way to the post. The Egyptian fisted the ball solidly, but was emotionless as he vacated the goal for Jolly. Jörgen Falkbo
stepped up, and rammed it right down the middle to give Grilled the upper hand.
Chemistry's S$14 million star midfielder Eric Niklasson had the responsibility for the third kick, and like Mustafic pulled off a good, confident penalty, again to the bottom left. Abed-Sulaiman didn't change his ways and still went to that side, even managing to hold on to the ball this time. No sound emitted from the Grilled bench, but the look in their eyes betrayed the belief that their goalie had won it for them.
Kek-Tjiang's effort was a tad slow, but he probably had guessed which way Yann Jolly was going, since it was clearly aimed at the other side. Grilled were now 3-1 up on penalties, meaning that Chemistry's remaining two strikers had to score, and hope for Grilled's final duo to miss, to rescue the tie.
Remeli bin Abd Jalil gave the Chemistry fans a little glimmer of hope, as he did a little shuffle and stabbed it high and to the right. Abed-Sulaiman had elected to stay in the middle, but was leaning off-balance by the time it entered the net. The stadium now held its collective breath as Jon Andrea Rottman
carried the ball to the spot.
Jolly tried to put the Swiss midfielder off his game by protesting about the position of the ball, but Rottman simply moved it back twenty centimetres and waited for the whistle. The referee blew it after what appeared like an eternity, Rottman hit out with his right boot... and the ball sailed into the bottom left. Game over.
Following Hattrick regulations, the remaining two inconsequential kicks still had to be taken, but no-one seemed particularly interested in them. Alfred Pasieczny, free of pressure, went for the spectacular with a chipped shot that fell well wide, and Spirig was just relieved to pump his right at an immobile Yann Jolly, before joining the throng piling on man-of-the-match Ahmed Abed-Sulaiman