The World Battle tournament threw up another distinguished club as Grilled Birds' opponents, with fellow three-time national cup winners and former Prva Makedonska Liga champions FK Zapad slated to face them. While they have been struggling somewhat in II.1 following their latest relegation from the top division, as head coach Albert Maust comes under some scrutiny for his S$46 million arrangement with F.C Tomori Berat for four players, late last season. Defender Kristijan Shterjovski has kept his form and spot with the national squad, but the Albanian contingent has been relatively subdued thus far.
Wednesday's 1-4 loss to lower-league challengers K.F. admirclub in the Sapphire Challenger Cup did Zapad few favours, and though they had to be a good match for the Birds on paper, there was just something missing in reality. Their defence might have been deemed a bigger weak point than Grilled's own, what with the 39 year-old Maust nominating himself as goalkeeper, and lone centreback Pe'er Salama likewise over the hill. This placed plenty of demands for their midfield - particular ex-Albanian international Blerim Teliti - to operate box-to-box, something they would discover to be possibly infeasible under the Birds' heavy pressure.
Although their left flank boasting of Shterjovski and Vladan Džarić was clearly intended to be their major avenue of attack, Grilled would manage by overloading to that side, and the Birds' first big opportunity was born from there, when Salah Kamel
demonstrated great timing to push forward as Shterjovski overextended. His pummelled low cross would be behind both Kalki Parvathaneni
and Chan Ze Han
, but just about right for the late-arriving Bernie Egan
, who placed it square onto the post. Nechifor Băjănică then hacked the rebound deep into the gallery upon reaching it.
That would set the tone for most of the match, as FK Zapad found their setup ill-matched against Grilled's intoxicating centrality. The numbers just weren't there as Kalki blazed through in the tenth minute, but despite Chan Ze Han
expecting it to be dropped to him, he held on for too long, and would have to grudgingly pass it back outside. That would be but a short delay, though, as Chan soon received it back in an even better position, and promptly snapped it up and over a slightly-indecisive Maust.
The referee would further book Sadik Kasa in the aftermath for his late hack on Kalle ter Berg
after the final ball had been released, an act that the Dutchman definitely didn't appreciate. Now, Zapad were hardly without weapons of their own, and their brightest moment of the first half soon followed, concluding with Shterjovski's impressive but ultimately overhit rising drive. The remainder of the half would be dull in comparison, as Zapad wisely became more circumspect.
would make two changes for the second half, exchanging his wide midfielders for true wingers; Heng and Künzler wouldn't disappoint in the main, which should have them rise in the head coach's estimations. Indeed, it took the evergreen Pole barely three minues to craft an assist from the right, as Zapad's strength once again proved their downfall. Cyril Künzler
knew exactly what he was doing, as he tempted Tamás Faragó towards him with a determined run along the outside of the penalty area, and this left enough of a gap in the centre for Kalki Parvathaneni
to occupy and score from.
FK Zapad would rapidly cancel that out, as Shterjovski & Džarić on the left simply had too much quality between them, not to come good eventually. In truth, Gilbert Webb
had to be at his best whenever he came to face Džarić directly, and his capabilities finally failed him on this occasion. The Bosnian skipped gracefully past the Scot with an outrageously-slick shuffle from one leg to the other, and the much-critiqued Redi Zajmi would profit as he made no mistake on the tap-in.
Hopes for a comeback would be scuppered in no time, though, as Zajmi's goal turned out to be the exception to the rule. The Birds maintained their upper hand in the middle, and Kalle ter Berg
would pick his moment well, to slide it diagonally for Bilal Mohammad Harun
to run onto in the 57th minute. While not exactly famed for his dribbling, Bilal's basics were impeccable as he fended off a defender, before dragging a strike just past Maust's reach.
then put the match to rest on the restart, as he made full use of Heng Dong Chu
's own sparkling run down the left, to which young Goran Tupurkovski couldn't keep up with. That made it 4-1, and Chan Ze Han
's bid for a fifth would be blocked at the last instant by Salama, though it wouldn't have been overly flattering.