Rashid Rakes One
The Birds made short work of SingaporeLions on their first real challenge of the Cup, as Brazilian import Djan Bacelar
proved his worth from set-pieces, and former national U-20 defender Rashid bin Ahmad
scored on his long-awaited full debut.
While the hosts have done consistently well in their league, finishing third for the past four seasons, and have also begun the latest iteration with six wins in all competitions, Grilled remained the favourites for the encounter, especially with Zhu Changchun
back from injury to helm midfield.
Facing them were a Lions side of longstanding local midfielders augmented mostly by veteran foreign talent, with the exception of 20 year-old Portuguese forward Óscar Moreira, whose eight so far has made him a favourite among the Lions' ranks.
Clearly inspired, Moreira so very nearly wrote himself into club lore in the third minute as he crossed over to the right, drifted past Hilal Bakhtiar
and directed a precise ball to strike partner Sébastien Michel, but Hovaness Noubaryan
was on his toes, and parried the Belgian's decent effort.
The Birds were not about to risk such a setback, and with a proper playmaker to direct affairs, they were noticeably more organized than in previous Cup affairs. Liang Liyong
was left alone on the left as the hosts scrambled to stem an attack down the middle, and he punished them with a fine delivery to Chow Ying Lee
, who only had to keep his head to score.
Nerves settled by having the lead, Grilled pressed on, and Bacelar made good use of a free-kick from thirty metres out by finding Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
lurking wide within the penalty area. The head specialist observed the situation and targeted Tian Yonghang
with a pinpoint knockdown, leading to Tian extending his extraordinary streak by yet another game, in the process outdoing even the great Ola Martinsson.
Bacelar went for it himself after some courageous defending by Austrian journeyman Charly Tucek saw him both bump Mohd Safri off the ball unfairly and hurt himself in the ribs, and his undistinguished effort managed to make it through the Lions' wall and surprise Low Jing Teck.
Most Grilled fans would have thought that this was bascially it for the home team, but Luis Alcántara was not about to count his eggs, and sent Abdul bin Jantan
on for Chow for the second half. Abdul, who had been an unused substitute on Sunday, was delighted to be able to go all out, and within three minutes produced an inch-perfect lob for Rashid, but Low was equal to the diving header this time.
The Lions were hard pressed to hold out for much longer, however, and Rashid got his goal in the 59th minute after some wonderful understanding between the forwards opened it up for him, and following Pompeo Bellamoli
's unsupported rocket from well outside the box before that. Leong Wan Kang
, who had been relegated to the bench to accommodate Tian upfront, was seen celebrating wildly at his friend's success.
The home team were by now fighting for a consolation, but despite some slick moves by Sébastien Michel, they were unlucky to have to contend with a Rashid hungry for a first-team spot. After being dispossessed by the suffocating defender yet again, they had to endure Ling Fuquan
recording a sixth from several rapid passes through the middle.
Bacelar then completed his second brace in a row with a coolly-taken penalty thanks to Chow being tripped up, and Rashid was happy with his day's work from the smile on his face as he came off for Walter Ross
with two minutes remaining.