Alas, it was not to be for the Farmer Bunnies, as they were shut out by Arrogancae in the Ruby Challenger Cup finals. Dalibor Kostadinović
would wind up eating his words in the aftermath, as the former national champions ultimately outdid the Buns at their own game.
It could have been very different, to be honest. Bunnies were threatening by the third minute, when Sofian Azfar
found himself in all but the perfect spot to have a go, coming after Lau Chang Wan
got a lucky bounce against Tanio Bagazgoitia on the left. Azfar would however pull it marginally too far to the outside, a miss that would haunt him after the fact.
Despite that, the proceedings were going according to plan for Kostadinović and company, and the 5-4-1 that they started in - with only Mushtag Al-Nameeri
up top to keep Arrogancae's backline honest - was sufficient to place considerable pressure on their distinguished foes, thanks to the Buns' excellence in wide areas. Vishnu Tallapaka
had Felipe Porras scrambling for his free-kick in the 20th, and Wong Ting Yew
helped Namdar Zarar
's hopeful flick-on into the goalpost not long afterwards.
Arrogancae did retain the upper hand over Farmer Bunnies in one department, but it was the most important one: scoring. Nicola Abis finally found room to move in the wake of Wong's effort, and he would weave his way to the Buns' penalty area, mostly by himself. Despite being tightly marked by Aswad Mohd Jafni
, Inesan Kwansah retained enough freedom to set up the one-two, and Abis would polish it off; the Italian wingman wouldn't be long for the game afterwards, as he would retire five minutes later with a foot injury, but he had set his team on the path to victory.
Farmer Bunnies having to chase wouldn't help their prospects much, not against an Arrogancae lineup that had to compete with admittedly far superior offenses, over the past seasons. Mushtag was reduced to trying to draw attention, generally fruitlessly, as Arrogancae began to pick their way through. 38 minutes in, Gisbert Odewald seemed to have broken clear of Tham Leng Teck
, and the Bunnies captain had to flirt with a sending-off to bring him down.
There was a sense of inevitability as the match wore on with scarce few opportunities opening up for the Buns, what with Arrogancae more than willing to play the waiting game, which led to another booking in the 63rd, this one for Wong Ting Yew
. Their biggest chance, a through ball from Morgan Hu
, would be smashed off the crossbar by Vishnu Tallapaka
in the 68th minute - at which the Number 28 sank to his knees, probably recognizing that he was unlikely to receive a second such opportunity.
If so, he was right, and Arrogancae would put the finals to bed with a simple yet devastating push up the right side following a Bunnies double substitution in the 80th minute, culminating in Filippo Cornoldi's coldly-precise finish. Tham Leng Teck
was denied even a consolation late on, as Porras was equal to his fiercely-struck half-volley.
It would therefore be a first Challenger Cup trophy for Arrogancae, and a finals defeat for the Buns, which ends their bid to emulate Grilled Birds' undefeated legend at the second hurdle. Head coach Dalibor Kostadinović
did his best to remain upbeat. "We were never the same entity. Arrogacae were worthy winners today, and it's our own fault for not capitalizing, when we had the advantage."
More than a few reporters posed the obvious question as to whether Bunnies' stubborn defensive approach could take them to the highest levels, and to this, Kostadinović would not concede. "There's nothing wrong with our style at all. It's our identity, and if anything, we have just not mastered it. That's all."