Grilled Slow Burn
The third round of the World Battle saw the Birds torch American II.2 opponents Phoenix Cedrus, who were something of a fellow cup specialist themselves, having picked up the Apollo and Enterprise editions of the United States. Their having won both their previous tourney fixtures without conceding spoke volumes as to their vice-like mode of approaching the game, with skipper Benjamín Madrid embodying the method in finding the only goal against former Serie A champions Mar Mousa, last Friday.
Given that both Mar Mousa and previous challengers Volcan Moroni of the Comoros II.1 had both tried to boldly take the game to Cedrus, Grilled seemed like they might be in a bit of a pickle, given how they had been stymied by such a setup in recent months. It was not as if they knew of any other way to play, though, and their calibration was limited to positioning Vikram Mudaliar
as an out-and-out forward. The team looked engineered to attack down the left, with Bernie Egan
and Kalki Parvathaneni
deployed with a view towards pure fluidity down that flank.
Or that was the idea at least, and there was precious little of that aspiration on show in a turgid first half. The defensive slant of Phoenix Cedrus was no joke at all, and their ability to fill up any fleeting gaps that appeared, was about as impressive as it was frustrating. The Birds did not want for the ball, but bringing Cedrus goalie Kyle Montague into the game, was another thing altogether. Over thirty minutes had passed before Chan Ze Han
was able to send a chip his way, but Montague was entirely assured as he shepherded the lob on its way - though it came close enough to fall atop the netting.
Phoenix Cedrus were in no particular rush to score themselves, but there was the sense that they were simply playing the percentages with their usual caution. They definitely had the big guns to make it count from deep, as evidenced by German winger Domenic Zweibrücken walloping one from over thirty yards, with five minutes to go in the half. An unfortunate spectator in the stands took the brunt of that, and would be downed for a concerning minute.
probably had that one covered, but Grilled were no closer to victory than when they had started; the only consolation was that their American hosts were not having much luck in their own offensives. Ignazio Schwender was their most obvious target, but the big Swiss central midfielder would not be allowed room to operate. With almost nothing panning out for either team, Eren Serpin
would make a double substitution - Kalle ter Berg
back from his sprained back for Salah Kamel
, and Wu Jinglong
for a quiet Teo Chuan Yong
on the right.
That was more like it, as Wu again confirmed that half an hour of his best, could still stand amongst any of the rest. Brazilian fullback Thyrso Bezner would discover this to his detriment, as he found himself beaten to the outside by the unusually-sprightly veteran. Wu's cutback wasn't half bad either, and it went through for a slightly-surprised Mateja Jeftić
to tap home from, at the far post.
The Birds were hardly home and free yet, but they would soon be, as Cedrus had to take more risks with time winding down. With this, holes that would never had appeared in the first half would begin to emerge, and Moey Xin Seng
would beat two men in his direct rush down the centre, with an expansive first touch. Montague threw himself at Moey's feet, but the Grilled star was quick enough to clip it over the goalkeeper in that instant.
The Phoenixes then made perhaps their best chance of the day, with Zweibrücken tee-ed up for a full-blooded blast just outside the box, but Jānis Salmiņš
turned out equal to that with a spectacular save at full stretch. What happened afterwards was great for Grilled too, as their opponents tried and failed to get the ball back. The pseudo-counter was on, and it led to Vikram Mudaliar
dribbling inside for a smooth third goal.
The hosts could not help but be discouraged by that, and Andrei Radoveanu would get a little sloppy with a late tackle on Bernie Egan
, for which he would be booked. Egan would have his header off the free-kick saved comfortably by Montague, and Cedrus' immediate break down the right side would see Cătălin Anăstăsoaie make a hash of a possible consolation.