Vikram Does Enough
Another day, another victory in the Division Battle tournament for Grilled Birds, as they edged former Georgian Sapphire Challenger Cup winners Ath Bilbao Basque by a single goal. With the II.2 title out of their own hands after a disappointing home loss to leaders F.C. Bogano last week via a lone Jon Torset strike, Basque would fall prey to the same early raid here.
Basque made no attempt to hide their intent of safety first and shooting from distance, as they lined up in two rows of five, with ex-international midfielders Demilio Adelaar and Alfred Kellenter at perhaps the pinnacle of their careers. What really tied Basque's system together, however, was the driving force of Romanian skipper Milán Bokor, who made it a point to push forward as much as possible.
There wouldn't be much of that going on today, and certainly not in the initial running, with Kalki Parvathaneni
being especially active on the left. Kalki's collaboration with Heng Dong Chu
on that flank would live up to much of the theoretical hype as they dribbled those that stood in their way with extreme confidence, and Kalki would nearly manage to slip through in the third minute. It took a very decisive tackle from Kasimir Kaukoranta to stymie him then.
Kellenter would be brought down illegally by Bhavya Panigrahi
in the eleventh, which resulted in a yellow card for the Birds defender, but Bokor's free-kick went nowhere fast. Instead, it was Vikram Mudaliar
who scored in his prototypical manner on Grilled's next advance, as he shifted his weight nimbly and surged past Wijnand van der Vlist, before powering it low past Manuel Barrena Delgado. There might have been another for Mudaliar too, barely two minutes later, but he ballooned Bernie Egan
's creative pass.
There would frankly not be too much to add onto the commentary for a very long time, as Ath Bilbao Basque had patience in spades. They would shift the ball until what appeared to be a completely open shot presented itself, which however was not very often; also, while their shooting from range was more than competent, Massoud Dob
would have to be more than equal to anything bar a very special effort, from outside the box.
This state of affairs dragged on into the second half, as Grilled made their substitutions - first, goalscorer Vikram Mudaliar
would bid farewell as Chan Ze Han
entered at half-time, before Bilal Mohammad Harun
likewise made his exit in the 65th minute, with Chu Xin Lee
replacing him. Chu would immediately add a touch of flair to the proceedings, as he drew jeers from the opposition fans for a flashy - and ultimately badly-delivered - rabona. He didn't allow that to get him down, however.
The Birds were gradually making more headway, as Basque had to emerge from their shell with time running out, and the cracks that emerged would be ruthlessly exploited. In particular, Egan and Chu crowded Muhammed Emin Ilım together as the Turkish centreback found himself isolated, and the former would pick his spot before help arrived. Delgado would have to utilize all his considerable length, to palm that down.
Adelaar would really come into his own in the last ten minutes, as the Suriname national teamer's freakish stamina - even when counted amongst top professionals - came to the fore. There was firstly a critical foul on Neeraj Muthyala
, who was a touch from what would likely have been a lethal through pass, before Adelaar went for it in the 82nd. This was possibly the best effort from distance that his side had offered throughout, but it went about a yard too high, to the detriment of an unsuspecting supporter seated in the gallery.
Grilled were beginning to crumble under the renewed Basque pressure, credit to them, but it was them that were nearly hit by a double whammy, as the Birds found the wherewithal to counter at the death. Chan Ze Han
, cunning as always, slipped past the last man to face Delgado alone, but the Spanish goalkeeper kept their flickering hopes alive for a little more, if to no eventual avail.