Ace Of Saves
In a throwback to last season's quarterfinals against Chemistry, a counter-attacking opponent clung on to 120 minutes, but were more or less singlehandedly dispatched by ex-international Egyptian goalkeeper Ahmed Abed-Sulaiman
. If Grilled do indeed retain the Cup, his contributions cannot be overstated.
Alcántara fanned the flames of rumour concerning Ulf Hjortlind
when the out-of-favour striker only commanded a place on the bench. Many fans however supported the coach and expressed surprise that he even got named at all, considering how he walked out before the heimu XI game. Partnering Martinsson in Wai-Kin's continued absence was S$13.9 million man Hidde van Liere
While Grilled's packed midfield five was expected, Chinablack's conversion to a straight 4-4-2 was not. A half-fit Roy Peoples, scourge of Winning Eleven last time round, was rushed back from injury to central defence. National midfield star Hsiao Tzung of course remained in the middle, with twice-capped Portuguese winger Luís Rua providing the width.
The fixture turned out to be decided by the internationals, former and current, on the field of battle.Quah Han Kok
, who had not long ago been a mainstay of Singapore's U-20 midfield, displayed experience far beyond his 21 years when he dissected Chinablack's weak positioning in the 6th minute. Calculating that they were operating a zone defence, Quah cleverly staked the attack on a risky charge down the middle. Indeed, the defence withdrew enough for him to set up a left-footed screamer that eluded fellow ex-U-20 representative Mohd Zaharul in goal.
For some moments it looked as if a repeat of last year's 0-5 thrashing was on the cards, especially after van Liere threw off his shackles in the eleventh minute and saw his delicate chip kiss the post. Chinablack recovered, and began getting their own chances. Velimir Pecaric was not far away with his own curler from fifteen metres.
Grilled were vulnerable to Chinablack's lightning counters, and Niall Nelis hit the woodwork after he got Sulaiman out of the way. They were again denied on the half-hour, when Sulaiman read Roy Peoples' magnificent free kick correctly and spreadeagled to fist the awkwardly dipping strike out.
Chinablack finally got the goal they so richly deserved, when who else but Hsiao Tzung threaded through Grilled's entire defence on a whim. He turned Sid with a dapper first touch, and then took Bona out of the equation by pushing the ball out right a few metres. Finally, he danced out of Falkbo's despairing challenge and whipped a grounder into the net.
The tempo was all with Chinablack, but Grilled still held the lion's share of possession. They fought back in the second half, as Quah Han Kok
's youthful pace was simply too much for 34 year-old Thomas Pettersson to handle. Uncatchable, Quah then lifted a high ball over the six-yard box to van Liere, who headed in what astonishingly was his first Cup goal this run.
Hsiao Tzung was back at it again, however, and after van Liere's ambitious shot was blocked by Ratas, lingering forward Niall Nelis saw his illustrious teammates sprinting off. The Englishman, with 21 appearances for the English U-20 side, rotated and struck a breathtaking lob that Luís Rua hit first time. It came off Sulaiman's legs, but Tzung was on hand to mop up and claim his brace.
Martinsson then somehow lost concentration and tamely shot wide after Au-Yong Siu-Yue
had done all the hard work of ferrying the ball to him. Nelis had his own opportunity to decide the semi-finals, but he was undone by Sulaiman, whose quick hands gathered the dangerously bouncing loose ball to his chest.
Extra time was called, and this time Grilled were the side on the offensive throughout. Rottman appeared to have a legitimate claim for a decisive penalty when he was upended within Chinablack's penalty area, but the referee thought otherwise and even booked the disbelieving Swiss midfielder. Grilled's hardcore supporters thought Martinsson would again drape himself in honours when he clipped it past Mohd Zaharul with ten minutes left, but it bobbed agonizingly wide.
So, it would be the dreaded roulette again.
Over 130000 watched with bated breath as Sulaiman, almost disdainfully, took his station between the posts, standing rock-still as American defender Roy Peoples positioned the ball with utmost concentration. The whistle came, Peoples struck, but he was off-balance and Sulaiman hadn't twitched. An easy stop for the Egyptian.
Sid then stood out. He hadn't joined Grilled when they last went through on penalties, but he was in his domain. Mohd Zaharul could have done nothing whatsoever as Sid cannoned the ball with both breathtaking power and absolute precision into the top left. Grilled were back on top.
Niall Nelis knew that his kick was crucial, and took no chances with a solid sidefoot at the bottom left. Sulaiman had problems with that, and nearly failed to keep the ball out as he only got his wrists to the ball. Chinablack's players were in uproar as they argued it had crossed the line, but television replays justified the linesman's decision - only half a sphere had passed before Sulaiman swiped it out.
Martinsson was Grilled's second representative, and he knew full well that had he been more lethal, it would have not come down to this. Perhaps he might have had an off-day, but he remains a formidable dead ball specialist in whatever form. Rejecting conservatism, he followed Sid's example with a perfect rocket into the roof of the net.
The Chinablack fans were deadly silent when their idol Hsiao Tzung came up for his team's third attempt. The gigantic screens in Fortress Tactics clearly showed up the beads of pespiration on his face, as he contemplated the task before him. In the end, his nerve held as he slammed it hard and waist-high, but Sulaiman was just too good. He exploded the right way and got a palm in the way. Tzung turned away with eyes closed, but Sulaiman's face remained a mask.
Since Chinablack had only two tries remaining, Grilled could win the tie outright with a single goal from any of their three attempts. Captain Jörgen Falkbo
wasted no time, though. His was a simple three-step run-up, but his neutral stance made the direction hard to judge. Mohd Zaharul made a manful gamble, but lost as Falkbo's averagely-paced shot trundled in at the other side of the goalmouth. The finals now await Grilled.
Lost in the hoopla were Sulaiman's later two saves from Thomas Pettersson and Luís Rua, who did their job well but were just ill-fated to meet Sulaiman in such a mood. Grilled's only miss came from Shen, who cared little, while the last taker Bona cared more and sent Mohd Zaharul the wrong way.