Nightstars Shine Down
Grilled tripped once more in knockout competition, and were dumped out of the Cup der Legenden in the quarterfinals by Nightstar 2. There wasn't too much to be ashamed of, frankly speaking, with the Birds bravely catching up from two goals down, twice in succession; their Kyrgyzstani opponents would have the rub of the green, though, as literally everything that they tried went in.
This was in evidence even in the second minute, with the commentators still covering Henning Main's recent exploits for the fairly eclectic audience. Islom Davlatov
wasn't taking any chances as he blocked Alessandro Maria Civita's cross behind, but Davlatov would then have cause to regret his caution - Nightstar 2 had three men lining up for Mauro Curto Pelle's corner, and Tojiddin Darvishev did the honours with Grilled's defence still asleep.
wasn't sure where to point his fingers at that, but there was still time aplenty to set things right. Grilled's long-unseen midfield pairing of Moey Xin Seng
and Neeraj Muthyala
were not bad at all, but Nightstar 2's adherence to the basics preserved their lead handily. 29 minutes in, they would be two up, thanks to another much-up from a dead ball. The Birds hadn't learnt their lesson as they watched Main chase the free-kick, and although Gilbert Webb
tried to close after the Nightstar 2 captain kept it in, Main managed to finish from a narrow angle.
Undaunted, Grilled kept on attempting to break down the left, with Florus Romijn
's having the hottest feet of the moment uncontested by his peers. It wasn't happening, sadly, and Grilled's first big chance - through Cyril Künzler
's rampage down the other flank in support - was batted aside by Nightstar 2 custodian Rainer Werner Gfrerer. Kalki Parvathaneni
deserved plaudits for being first to it, but Kai Rügenwald's little tug at the end was all the difference.
And then, suddenly, the Birds were level - just like that. Neeraj Muthyala
would ghost in from the right, blindsiding the retreating Helímenes Vegas, to lob Gfrerer with amazing accuracy in the 40th minute. Chan Ze Han
then banged in a classic striker's goal right before half-time, in a drastic departure from his usual, more calculated style. The bench definitely appreciated his expanded repertoire, with Chu Xin Lee
shown on camera shaking his head while clapping wildly.
If punters thought that a Grilled whiplash was in the making, they would be proven wrong, as the match then swung back Nightstar's way. The interval had spoilt Grilled's frame of mind of anything, and Ivan Anakin strove to snatch the flow back for his team, with a tremendous solo invasion right off the bat. That came to nothing, but five minutes later, winger Alessandro Maria Civita's off-balance lump from the corner of the penalty area would drop past a flailing Dob. 3-2.
Nobody had much expected that one to have gone in, least of all Civita himself, it seemed. The Birds perhaps tried too hard to counteract it, and they would leave their right side basically empty, after both Davlatov and Webb offered themselves - recklessly, as it turned out - as targets. Yuta Nakakita
couldn't guard both Main and Vegas on his own, and the latter would feed the former for a straightforward finish on the hour mark.
Things really heated up after Hoàng Trung Quá
came on for Webb, with the veteran Vietnamese defending knowing instinctively what had to be done in such circumstances. Within two minutes of coming on, he had taken the ball across the halfway line, and started a move that concluded with a second Muthyala goal, played off Romijn at the last.
As before, Grilled rode on the euphoria, and were once more level in the blink of an eye. It could even have been Chan again, but the Birds skipper didn't let his ego overwhelm him, and wisely allowed Moey's penetrating pass to run through for the better-placed Vikram Mudaliar
. Mudaliar wouldn't waste Chan's faith in him, as he went for the bottom corner with a simple sidefoot. Mauro Curto Pelle then promptly flipped a header past Massoud Dob
on Nightstar 2's next possession, and that was it.