Status Quo Kept
CharlesCheesePie and JUtd kept their berths for the following season after the dust settled on the morning's qualifiers, confirming the makeup of II.2 for Season 51. The Grilled squad had split roughly evenly into three groups for the occasion, two of them in attendance at See Mee Lan Park and New Bukit Batok respectively.
Spartanx United certainly had a sense of the scale of the moment, and began a new chapter in their history as Esparta Utd. However, the rebranding did nothing to fix their decimated defence, which saw Luke Wallensteiner and Marlon Di Vito failing late fitness tests.
With Gennaro Stiletto suddenly returning to Italy to play for Real Makikaz, the backline duties were too much for Manuel Catelli to handle alone, and celebrated national forward Zulharisan bin Mamud knocked out a brace within half an hour. CCP were four up by half-time, leading to a second half that was slightly less engrossing than expected.
Chow Ying Lee
was almost relieved to see former U-20 teammate Mohd Ali bin Abu Bakar grab a consolation three minutes from the end. "After ten minutes, I could see how it was going to turn out. Esparta do have some quality, but it's spread a bit thin. Good on Mohd Ali, I've some catching up to do with him."
It was a much more closely-run affair over at New Bukit Batok, which saw Dodogado midfielder Dong Rongyong catch the eye with his dynamism. Although best known as a defensive midfielder, Dong gave his side the lead with a classic big man's header, and then carved two excellent chances out for himself in the second half.
Most there had high expectations of new JUtd striker-midfielder Thomas Comte, newly signed from French top division side SammieTeam, but both he and Dong were ultimately upstaged by a virtuoso performance from Italian forward Gerardo Senesi, who decided the tie in four fateful minutes just before half-time.
, who had been watching closely in the front row, was impressed. "I shouldn't have to say that we have to watch this guy, seeing as he scored against Grilled both times we met last season, but even so it bears repeating. Dong was very good too, I certainly wouldn't mind having him here!"
The last group stayed somewhat closer to home, witnessing the Chicken Wings collect their fifth straight win by outlasting newbies are newbies Jr 4-3 at The Green Gridiron. Liang Ah Shun scuffed the winner in from corner action in the 76th minute, after buzzing winger Liew Kang Cheng twice gave the visitors the lead.
"Frankly, I haven't been back here for a while, but now the old days are flooding back!" Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
, perhaps the most famous alumnus of Grilled's youth setup, said while sipping on a soda.
"There are a few good 'uns in this crop, but that Santosh Manik kid stood out for me - he knows exactly what to do with the ball at his feet, and doesn't have any clear weaknesses at all. Why, I would even say that he's almost as good as I was at that age!"