Taiwan Celtic were Dragon League national champions as recently as five seasons ago, with two Phoenix Cups to boot, but the much-decorated Kao-hsiung titans had fallen on some tough times lately. They were demoted from Division Two following three seasons of underperformance, which has seen them recently shed some of their biggest names such as Polish goalkeeper Radomił Śmigiel and Italian fullback Graziano Giammarinaro for a total of some S$50 million.
Nevertheless, new player-coach Miguel Flórez's side remained a cut above the median third division team, and retained plenty of individual superstars. Today's skipper Roman Nieszporek, who was the driving force behind the renaissance of Slovakia's Retired athletes vol.4, was one of them; 25 year-old Lithuanian centreback Ovidijus Sorotokinas would probably be the one shining the brightest by reputation, however, and he would be sorely tested today.
Celtic might have entered this match fresh on the back of a Nieszporek hat-trick against KIYO-1 in the league, but the Polish forward would be allowed barely a look at Jānis Salmiņš
' goal in the first half. The Grilled team appeared sincerely castigated by their wastage of points yesterday against United, and this translated to a fervour as fierce as any that they had demonstrated over the campaign. Salah Kamel
was particularly impatient to make it up, and the Palestine midfielder would give Florindo Chiacchio brief worry, with a strike from over midway across Celtic's half.
Kamel wouldn't stop trying, and his persistence bore fruit ten minutes later in the 26th, as the teams assembled for a free-kick from the touchline. No-one managed a touch on Bhavya Panigrahi
's delivery until it reached the far post, where Kamel was dashing to. Panigrahi would record another set-piece assist another six minutes down the road, with Bernie Egan
sent through this time, and one could hardly have blamed Taiwan Celtic from being surprised when he directly dropped it over the wall for the third goal instead.
The 32 year-old defender was obviously enjoying himself out there, and as to the bigger picture, there was no hint that Celtic had what it took to reverse their fate. Nieszporek was nothing if not a tireless worker trying to make things happen by dropping deep, but unfortunately young Xiong Shuanghua - who has played just six official friendlies for Celtic, and is yet to make his competitive debut - was too transparent as their main target man.
There was thus no change in the general direction of the game upon the restart, and Kalki Parvathaneni
would up Grilled's lead to four goals, five minutes in. Former Venezuelan youth international Diego Jiménez had shadowed Chan Ze Han
well on that advance, but there was no denying Kalki, who elected to follow closely in their wake. Moey Xin Seng
had to thread the needle to find the Number Ten then, and did it with a subtly-curving lob.
Chan's demanding cross would be taken literally off Mudaliar's forehead by Chiacchio three minutes later, maybe the sole spot of light in a forgettable day for the Belgian custodian who had usually been afforded excellent protection in the league, as an incredible string of seven clean sheets attested to. Celtic would suffer the ignominy of being hit on the counter next, as their most drawn-out spell of possession ended with Bernie Egan
flying through to put it into their net.
That came after Jānis Salmiņš
had denied Todor Manolov on a similar one-on-one, and Grilled's under-fire starting goalkeeper would affirm himself to be very quick off his line at least, as he smothered Roman Nieszporek's angles despite an extremely fortunate deflection sending the ball to the forward against all expectations. It would instead be the Birds to go 6-0, after a handball and Panigrahi's almost-lazy penalty conversion in the 68th minute.
Celtic's hopes for retaining some pride rested wholly on Roman Nieszporek now, but no luck for the veteran, as his powerful free-kick would be absorbed by Grilled's defensive wall, in what turned out to be their final real chance. Jiménez did do well to prevent a seventh goal with a perfect challenge on Moey with 73 minutes gone, and the late substitutions of Wu Jinglong
and then Chu Xin Lee
in for Kalki and Kalle ter Berg
did nothing but preserve the status quo.