Chan Delivers Challenge
Grilled Birds came through with a 5-3 victory against Swedish H.I. opponents Playboys Swe, in the Palio di Siena tournament. There was no mistaking that this would merely be a warm-up for the next fixture, against a perhaps slightly more renowned club under the same administration: Allsvenskan challengers and back-to-back Sverigecupen winners, Playboys Us.
That in mind, this first game was probably the Birds' most important in terms of qualifying, what with the remaining contestant in Group C - England's Stratton - considered unlikely to pose a real threat. As such, three points here would greatly boost Grilled's chances of making it through, but they would have to face down Swe's collection of attacking stars, most of all their current leading scorer in V.32, Fabrizio D'Affronto.
It was not a lineup against which the Birds could afford to hold back, and they started in what was their strongest available XI, with the possible exception of Florus Romijn
on the left. That slot was again filled by Moey Xin Seng
, who would also give Grilled the lead after a cagey first half-hour. Bernie Egan
slipped through Swe's first line of defence with his acceleration, and Moey saw the opportunity to enter Joakim Gunnarsson's blind spot.
D'Affronto equalized for Swe not two minutes later, with Bilal Mohammad Harun
unable to contain his run, and Grilled were suddenly sent reeling by their opponents' vigour. Spaniard Saúl Piña had Massoud Dob
clambering to get to his exquisitely-placed free-kick, only for it to clip the outside of the left upright. Grilled had barely recovered when D'Affronto was back at it, and only a conscientious recovery by Islom Davlatov
spared Dob then.
The top-grade action continued with Cyril Künzler
setting Vikram Mudaliar
free with a crossfield fifty-yarder, but the aptly-named Custódio Pinto was fast off the blocks, and saved it from right off Mudalier's boots. Nijaz Rašeta hacked it away as his goalkeeper struggled to recover, and Mathias Thörnsjö scored on the counter. The commentators had barely had time to catch their breath before Islom Davlatov
levelled in return, though he would also be booked several minutes later for a very cynical bump on Danko Vrhovec.
The stadium was buzzing after what had been a relatively dull start, and the second half would live up to newfound expectations. A spate of sharp exchanges had Swe come out on top in the 54th minute, with Swedish youth international Joakim Gunnarsson exhibiting both industry and physical balance in drawing and riding Moey's tackle. Dob was careless at his near post, as Gunnarsson spared nothing in his shot.
Sensing their big break, Swe's Italian head coach Emanuele Nizzoli motioned to slow the pace, and his well-drilled charges obliged. Current Swedish U-20 wingers Håkan Andersson and Mathias Thörnsjö were scarily mature in obeying orders to the letter, as they took turns to hold up play out wide. Hovaness Noubaryan
had to do something, and he sent Chu Xin Lee
on for Egan, with a brief to chase the ball.
Despite that, Swe continued to craft the better chances, and Grilled's hopes of progression were inches away from popping at one point, with Piña curling one to the top corner in the 72nd minute. Massoud Dob
only got to that at the last possible moment. It was testing times indeed for Grilled, but Chan Ze Han
took responsibility with a wonderful snipe right before the 80th minute, to keep the Birds alive.
It continued looking pretty bad for Grilled as Swe were better at keeping their shape, and with D'Affronto wearing Yuta Nakakita
out, there was every chance that he would pop up with a late winner. As such, Noubaryan made to shake things up once more, and threw on Prokop Mottl
as a supersub, with Yuta taking over Moey's captaincy.
Mottl's energy did hamper Andersson more than Moey had been doing for the past half, but the match still appeared headed for a draw... until Kalki Parvathaneni
's hard chasing earned Grilled a corner in the final minute. Wary of a counter, the Birds only had four or five in the box, but Neeraj Muthyala
peeled away to just the right spot as Künzler's delivery came in. Patrik Forsner saw it coming, but Muthyala had staked out his position too well.
The Birds were understandably in no hurry to restart the game, but they needn't have bothered, as Chan Ze Han
scored again with a superb chip on their next possession.