Best Form Of Defence
Tarin Double Take
Algerian second division team Amel Bou Saada did very little wrong in all honesty, but their near-flawless defensive tactics brought them no joy, against several unrelated pieces of Grilled wizardry. Swiss reserve defender Jérémy Tarin
caught the imagination, with two majestic dead-ball conversions.
Polish head coach Marek Bartela's safety-first philosophy had seen Amel Bou Saada undefeated for their last eight competitive games, and there seemed every chance that they could do the same against Grilled at Stade du Martyre Abdellatif Mokhtar. Former national U-20 goalkeeper Lounès Meniri had not been beaten by anything short of exceptional for some time, and in Fateh Benhamou he had a hardened - if not entirely level-headed - sweeper clearing the porch.
Grilled did little to shake that expectation initially, with the hosts' 5-4-1 defusing most of the Birds' attacks long before they came within range. This was resulting in a rather boring match - which was apparently not alien to the watchers - until Kalki Parvathaneni
earned a free-kick some ten yards outside the penalty area, off a Hal Loftus tackle. Tarin stepped up without much fanfare, and somehow floated it into Meniri's unprotected far top corner.
There was frankly nothing Meniri - or just about any other custodian, for that matter - could have done with that wholly unorthodox strike, which caught the wind in just the right way. Their original gameplan now ruined, the home team stirred themselves to advance the ball, and transpired to be actually fairly accomplished at that.
An equaliser seemed inevitable when Iranian fullback Farjad Ghazvineh made his move after an extended period of possession, and was poised to shoot and score when Rashid bin Ahmad
stuck a welcome leg in. Abdelghani Touahria smashed the loose ball narrowly high as Ghazvineh appealed for the penalty before he even hit the ground, but Cameroonian referee Robert Biya took a dim view of that.
This decision hardly went down well with the partisan home crowd, which in turn hardly won Amel Bou Saada any favours with Biya. Bartela made to inject some freshness with his introduction of Bouzid Kouffi at half-time, which to be honest went mostly unnoticed, as Amel Bou Saada kept on doing their thing.
Grilled for their part made to minimize the threat by keeping the ball from their own territory as much as possible, so it seemed, and Islom Davlatov
was hardly shy about making for the corners and shuffling it about there, whenever the middle got too congested. Unsurprisingly, the spectators weren't too happy about that, but it was probably the sensible thing to do in results-oriented footballing terms.
Amel Bou Saada's best hope had consistently been the space between Parvathaneni and Rashid, which opened up frequently enough, and Fateh Benhamou rampaged through with raw grit in the 67th minute. The finish was as tame as the run was fierce, quite unexpectedly, and Massoud Dob
had only to stoop leisurely to pick up the ball.
The Birds were still vulnerable, despite that escape, and Olle Mårtensson alone was giving them plenty of trouble, whenever he was in possession. Grilled were at sixes and sevens, when Davlatov felt it necessary to take Dariusz Szubarczyk down in the 75th. The crowd enjoyed that booking, but not Loftus' free-kick delivery, which went nowhere.
This all changed when Vikram Mudaliar
volleyed Chu Xin Lee
's hopeful chip past Meniri without a second thought, which stunned the stadium into silence. They had not yet recovered when some frantic dribbling by Parvathaneni lured Malek Chergui into an ill-advised challenge immediately afterwards, and Tarin's exact placement left Meniri no chance, despite him guessing correctly.