Tian Is Gold
Grilled avenged their 7-1 defeat three seasons ago to Palestinean national frontrunners Al Hilal Gaza, as they shaved it with a golden goal in extra time to seize a 2-1 win in front of a 7328 attendance at The Cooking Pot, the second highest ever for a friendly.
The turnout could easily be explained by Hilal's popularity, the team having just lifted their national cup for a second time, and are moreover on an astounding 20-match unbeaten run. It was thus a great chance for Grilled's second string to impress, all the more with the visitors leaving most of their big names at home.
They did bring the Finnish duo of Walter Robertsson and Antti Sumelahti, with the latter beginning to become known for being underestimated by opponents. Grilled for their part retained only two men from the side that had been thrashed, with Hilal Bakhtiar
no longer having to make do in goal, and Walter Ross
returning for a second bite.
Not much happened in the first twenty-five minutes, as patience was the name of the game, and Hilal sat tight despite a promising 3-4-3 formation. The waiting game appeared to have paid off for Hilal when Grilled's defensive pairing, admittedly not an often-seen combination, looked at each other to mop up a stray ball. Homegrown winger Isa Hmouz swooped in instead, but failed to get his strike on target.
This was followed by midfield hard man Isa Abbas Tayyem launching himself recklessly at Chow Ying Lee
, which was obviously not well received by the home support. Chow was thankfully alert and got out of the way in the nick of time, and referee Hugo Büttikofer immediately reached for the yellow due to the clear intent.
It was Grilled's turn to threaten, as Winston Chan
displayed good awareness of his teammates' position with a cross right to Bellamoli and Leong in the box, but they ended up getting in each others' way, and the opportunity was wasted. Tayyem however had the temerity to restrain Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
by his jersey in the build-up, which Cai could hardly ignore - it was a second yellow and an early shower for the Number Nineteen.
Hilal softened the blow by scoring in the next minute, and there was nothing lucky about defender Abdalrahman Hanino's rocket that zoomed into the far top corner, leaving Dan Seng
absolutely helpless. The 18 year-old defender might however have been a little too overwhelmed with his own ability as he let Leong Wan Kang
in without resistance from the kick-off, but the shot left much to be desired, and Pasi Daavitsainen with a simple save.
Daavitsainen prevented another goal after Mohd Safri needled one in from a tight angle from the left, and with the tide turning solidly against them, Hilal coach Ovídio Figueira thought it prudent to throw Robertsson on to even things up in midfield. He indeed calmed things admirably well, and the visitors made it to half-time unscathed.
It was then Luis Alcántara's turn to respond as he put Tian Yonghang
on for the defensive Liang Liyong
in a bid to chase the game, and after a further twenty minutes of making no inroads, decided to pull the uninspiring Shiya Shaahee
in favour of the more reliable Abdul bin Jantan
. That change in tack had Chow Ying Lee
finding the post in a close-up scramble within minutes, as the Birds slowly began to tighten the screws.
Grilled's equalizer finally came, but from an unexpected source as Ling Fuquan
kneed it in from point blank after a flowing move initiated by bin Jantan resulted in a fierce volley that Daavitsainen could only deflect towards his goalmouth. The Birds were now very eager to finish matters in regulation time, but strengthened defensive efforts by Hilal dashed those hopes. Goalscorer Hanino showed promise in his regular job as he hustled to-and-fro, in the meantime picking up a necessary yellow for stopping Mohd Safri.
Alcántara spent his final substitution on having Alex Fonseca
shore up the midfield even more, the 36 year-old Portuguese veteran also taking over captaincy duties from Bakhtiar, and Grilled indeed prevailed in the 14th minute of added time through Tian Yonghang