Another Safri Shines
What was meant to be a statement of intent by Grilled for the new campaign became a nightmare as heimu XI, who are fast become the Birds' new bogey team, grabbed their second victory at The Cooking Pot in weeks and third in a row, each one more impressive than the last. Both Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
's milestone hundredth start and Shiya Shaahee
's official debut in his new home were spoilt, as the Maldives winger once again proved ineffectual and collected nothing more than a booking.
Grilled were eager to avenge their 3-5 defeat here at the end of last season, meaningless as it was, and spirits were high with their best side available, Paolo Iten
making way for Shaahee, who curiously began on the left. heimu XI, showing their versatility, fanned out in a standard 3-5-2 when most expected them to reprise their counterattacking gameplan, though as it turned out player-coach Zhu Aobo, who had just made the national side aged 32 months ago, was dead on with his tactics.
Having prepared for a camp in the opposition half, Grilled were thrown off as they were forced to chase the ball by heimu's canny midfielders, with German signing Stanisław Babul frighteningly effective and looking as if he had always been there. It was his disguised pass slipped through the back that allowed countryman Paul Obojes to turn Lin Jungui
and prod home II.2's first goal of the new season.
The supporters, who had been restive for some time before that, had their mood hit further as heimu needed only three more minutes to add another. Rimgaudas Gilucevičius was a long way from his usual post in central midfield when a long pass was hit to him on the right, but so was Qassem Madaini
, and the Lithuanian managed to pull out enough pace to reach the ball first and flick it past a clearly displeased Dexter Stacey
Captain and vice-captain exchanged some heated words as they waited for the match, already looking like a lost cause, to restart, and true enough it was mostly good fortune that Grilled reached half-time without being four down. Stacey had no business getting to Raúl Chumbita's stooping header in the 33rd minute, but for it going straight at him, and the goalie was likewise technically beaten when rightback Kostandin Hasllani charitably lopped it over from about eight metres out.
The ambitious Shaahee's new career evidently hadn't panned out as he had envisaged it, and after calling for the ball to no avail on the outside, he took matters into his own hands by venturing infield and manhandling Babul quite crudely. Referee Sayuki Nagafusa seemed like he was about to let the winger off with a reprimand, but settled for the yellow card after Shaahee turned his back.
Stanca was close to exploding in the dugout, but managed to restrain himself, and Grilled looked for a moment like they had rediscovered themselves with a fine string of passes from the kickoff. Unfortunately, all it led to was a third for heimu after Babul intercepted an unconvincing backwards pass, with fellow midfielder Ljubomir Grgurović the executioner this time.
If ardent Grilled fans still held out any hopes of a comeback, the most optimistic of them must have admitted that it was over in the 58th minute, when Chumbita made up for his earlier poor effort with a sharply taken goal. Stanca looked completely defeated, in sharp contrast to Aobo, who was excitedly pushing Safri bin Mustapa onto the pitch.
The 24 year-old substitute, who has remained at heimu after several transfer rumours over the past months, took only nine minutes to get his name on the scoresheet. It came off what looked like a smart challenge just outside the box by Abdul bin Jantan
, but Nagafusa disagreed and awarded the penalty. The boos were understandably muted with the result already a foregone conclusion, and although Stacey dived the right way, Safri's kick to the left was too well placed.
A consolation goal was achieved when Chow Ying Lee
drew upon his reserves of speed and nutmegged Vittorio Lo Iacono on the sort of solo effort he is fast becoming known for, but the day belonged to heimu and Safri, who got his brace in the 78th minute after Madaini had one cleared off the line. Half the fans were gone by the time the ninety minutes were up, and Stacey, sitting with his chin in his hands, must think of a way to win them back.