Intl Earn Spurs
Grilled Birds would face their International offshoot for the first time ever in Brunei, and the tarpaulin-draped stadium would play host to an outstanding first forty-five minutes by International, who matched the Birds move-for-move through that period. A historic result was in the making for a magical moment after they surged to a two-goal lead, but it could not be maintained against the Birds' far more practised players.
An notable friendly for the clubs merely by virtue of the circumstances, there had been a prolonged build-up to the day itself, with International fans additionally invited to help pick the squad. Soo Kiong Yau
was, of course, in no matter what, but it came as some surprise that none of their new youngsters made the starting lineup, though they did make the bench.
While obviously firm favourites, the Birds did not optimize their positions, with Islom Davlatov
and Mohammad Ramli Saliman
swopping their best roles. Player of the Season Cyril Künzler
was nowhere to be seen, having set off on a short holiday to recharge, with Prokop Mottl
taking over on the right. Most glaringly, the defence was arguably third-string, being composed of reserves in Jérémy Tarin
and Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
- which could have been an intentional handicap allowed for their juniors.
Truth be told, International hardly needed any quarter, as they made to batter their slightly-complacent visitors right off the bat. Arcadi Sansalvador
, who might be playing his final game for International, having put in a transfer request through mutual agreement, was in particularly industrious form; acting captain Yuki Irie
could barely keep up with his sheer energy.
International made the Birds huff for every inch of ground made, and the concerted if informal pressing effort meant a severe dearth of true chances. Saliman was being bounced about by a hopped-up Sabli bin Huzaimi
, and only really contributed 38 minutes in, winching a strange pass on to Kalki Parvathaneni
, who chipped it onto the crossbar.
The hosts were not exactly brimming with opportunity either, but they sure made the best of what they had. Two minutes after Parvathaneni's near-miss, Sansalvador turned defence to attack in an instance, ripping a long, low pass upfield after dispossessing an all too casual Chu Xin Lee
. Abdul Hamid bin Hj Ali Timbang
had been waiting for just something like this, and he just about beat Jérémy Tarin
in the race to the ball, as Batâr approached slightly too late.
It was 2-0 in the very next minute, as International fired on all cylinders from kick-off. There might have been little method in their madness as they excitedly knocked the ball about with all the verve of schoolboys, but the Birds were largely unprepared against such a guileless approch. Hungarian centre midfielder László Kammer
would scoop it in, after a meaty collision between Micky bin Kadir
and two defenders.
The Birds were briefly overtaken with self-doubt, and Mohammad Ramli Saliman
was affected enough to attempt a rather squeamish dive, which drew hoots of derision from the home fans. They did pull one back before half-time, as Yuki Irie
caught Florus Romijn
's square ball nicely on his laces, but Sansalvador could have made it 3-1 had he kept it on target, after Valentin Batâr
was forced to rush out of his area to clear.
Having evidently had enough of coddling International, the Birds replaced Mohd Jafni with the rather more-steady Rashid bin Ahmad
for the second half, and the difference was immediately apparent, despite Rashid's forty years of age. Iranian attacker Iman Eshrafi
also came in, for the underperforming Mottl.
Together, they made for an instant upgrade, and the Birds were level by the 52nd minute. Osertz Indurain
, who had increasingly been struggling to keep up with Romijn as International's in-your-face approach stalled, had to be bailed out by an alert László Kammer
... who was then completely overrun by the pacy Belgian as well. A neat grounder into the near corner completed a wonderful dribble by the winger.
Though International did their best to hang on, they would be methodically taken apart by the Birds' sharp passing patterns, once their breath had gone. Tarin got some measure of satisfaction for all he had endured in the first half, with a crisply-struck goal in the 62nd. Ten minutes later, it became 2-4 as Chu Xin Lee
nodded another of Romijn's crosses in, with the No. 17 completely owning his flank by now.
It was the hosts' turn to sweat over substitutions to rescue the game, and soon after Chu's strike, a fresh Hesky Atmanegara
would replace the clearly-exhausted Abdul Hamid bin Hj Ali Timbang
. Five minutes later, Micky bin Kadir
left for trainee Wang Hanxuan
, as International pinned their hopes on an all-new attack.
That didn't have the intended effect as they were not able to hold onto the ball by this point, and it was instead Iman Eshrafi
who upped it to 2-5, as he threaded his way behind International's backline via Mohd Kamarul bin Hj Safari
's blind spot. Wang did receive it in a potentially-dangerous area five minutes from time, but Jérémy Tarin
wasn't taking any chances, and brought him down. There was palpable anticipation as Soo Kiong Yau
lined the free-kick up, but it went straight into the Birds' defensive wall.