Grilled Birds 6 - 3 Isle of Flames
Cup, Emerald Final, Season 5728 January 2015 04:45 HTT
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Grilled BirdsIsle of Flames
Chow Ying Lee (16)
Lee Lee Hao (17)
Chow Ying Lee (36)
Low Aik Jia (76)
Lee Lee Hao (78)
Chow Ying Lee (79)
Avri Dotan (29)
Richard Stetson (41)
Avri Dotan (75)

Season 57L5 - 4League
Season 53L0 - 5Tournament (Group Phase)
Season 38L2 - 4Qualification
Season 37W5 - 4League
Season 37L4 - 2League

Too Hot To Handle
Lees Lead

Not even the mythical Isle of Flames could prevent Grilled from capturing their second Challenger Cup in succession, as Chow Ying Lee and Lee Lee Hao leveraged the Birds' midfield superiority to its fullest. Flames' long-serving left winger Avri Dotan was their main driver, and nearly dragged them to extra time by his own by managing an equaliser, but this would only be the setup for a late barrage by the team in dark green.
If cup pedigree was what was desired in a final, one could not have done better than this pairing, with the seven Singapore Cups that Isle of Flames and Grilled Birds have won between them the maximum possible for now. If Flames had won one more than the Birds, however, Grilled did have the distinction of not having yet lost a cup final in four visits, a blemish that Kampong Dreamer inflicted on Flames long ago.

While a Challenger Cup might be a step down from the big one, there was every indication that both teams were taking it very seriously; fate had been kind to them in the run-up, and with full squads to choose from, the head coaches opted for full midfield fives, and a delectable selection of offensive talent. Although few punters were confident about the eventual winner, one thing was manifestly clear to them - there would be goals.

It was a testament to the sheer attacking power of the sides that their last meeting had ended with nine goals despite national-level goalkeepers at their posts, and there was little indication that this game would end otherwise, right from the start. Respected Swedish referee Leo Askengård had barely blown for kick-off, when the usually more conservative Flames blitzed the Birds with a head-on assault, that set the tone for the remainder of the proceedings.

The general complaint about teams being reserved in finals certainly did not apply here, with the Birds knowing no other way to play, and Flames having evidently decided that trying a counterattacking game was a fool's errand. Flames did get the better of the first ten minutes, as the well-rested Ervin Lakatos made his presence known against a harried Lee Lee Hao.

Flames' early strikes were not much to shout about, though, and a possibly game-changing incident came in the 13th minute, when Nic Schafrath launched himself feet-first at Zhao Jing Wei's ankles. Only Zhao's hair-trigger instincts saved him from a lengthy stay in the treatment room, and the Grilled faction were eagerly anticipating Askengård's decision. To their dismay, it was only a yellow.

This incident took the wind out of the sails for Isle of Flames' midfield on hindsight, but they did nearly take the lead on the restart. Tian Yonghang's attempted surprise pass was seen through by the hovering Richard Stetson, who released Hungarian speedster Lajos Rajeczki straight through the middle. It was all down to Wong Tian Han now, and Grilled's local custodian did not disappoint with his hustle off the line.

The Birds then got off to the races, in the most direct way possible. Gene Filippone hacked Wong's improvised hand-off straight towards Flames' penalty area, where the odd bounce took all present by surprise. Among those, only Chow Ying Lee had the pace to follow it, and the oft-overlooked Number Ten slid the last metre to angle it past Jan Alarcó.

Alarcó might have had over fifty caps for the Andorran national team under his belt, but the Birds' central attack while on form, was another creature altogether. Their raw bloody-mindedness has ripped the most disciplined of defences apart, and this was again the case from the restart as the strikers flung themselves headlong forward, in a display more reminiscent of rugby than football.

Bronisław Zolich had few, if any, flaws as a centreback in his prime, but this was something that the Pole was simply not equipped to handle, even with his fullbacks backing him up. Those saying that the days of blood-and-thunder were over had probably not seen Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim chasing down a defender like a man possessed, but to be fair it was Woon Shun An's calm head that picked out Lee Lee Hao's late foray into the box, which resulted in the second goal.

While shaken, Isle of Flames were too good an outfit to be defeated by this, and they composed themselves with the mettle born of having taken fifteen national titles. Step by step, they worked themselves back into the contest, fending off fierce raids that would have shattered a lesser side. Soon, they were pushing the Birds back, at first only temporarily, but before long, they had retaken the initiative.

With control established, reducing the deficit was next on their list, and for this they sensibly turned to width. Low Aik Jia had begun to get used to Rajeczki's movements, but on the other wing, the 34 year-old Avri Dotan was only too eager to show Wong Ping Shun that he had lost little of his considerable acceleration. It was a terrible matchup for the big Wong on defence, and despite all his efforts, Dotan would nip past him to make it 2-1 right before the half-hour.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Flames began giving it to Dotan whenever they could, and this soon got them a free-kick in a great position, with Lakatos being illegally blocked off by a fearful Grilled duo. Dotan, of course, stepped up to take it, and he was only inches off with his sweetly-struck curler that spun around the wall.

It was once more Grilled who benefitted from their opponents' close misses, as a cooperative ballboy aided Wong Tian Han in being able to quickly launch a move down the right. Now without Dotan to consider, Wong Ping Shun was free to play to his strengths, and Marius-Ştefan Tufeanu soon discovered how unfair a lower centre of gravity could be in a straight-ahead dribble. Chow headed to the near post in preparation, and Wong duly delivered.

The game could hardly have been more open, as the Birds showed no intention of falling back to defend their two-goal lead, which was perhaps just as well from painful past experience. They were always going to leak goals either way, and Dotan picked up a fine assist four minutes before the break, as he pinged an incoming ball first-time to Stetson, who banged it in apparently without a second thought.

The Birds thus took the most slender of leads into half-time, and those fifteen minutes could not pass quickly enough for the spectators. The green half at HitMen Arena were the more animated, but their red counterparts exuded an air of quiet confidence, as if being a goal behind were simply a minor inconvenience; given their club's illustrious history, they were likely justified in their attitude.

This assurance did not transfer very well to the pitch, though, and for all their experience, Isle of Flames remained hard-pressed to stem the Birds' obvious yet effective approach. Formations sank into irrelevance as Grilled simply hammered the middle whenever they could, as often as they could, and Wong Ping Shun would shave the top of the crossbar with his dipper 52 minutes in.

Flames gaffer Bronisław Grzejda than continued his unorthodox practice of substituting his goalie, with Jerome Wiles entering for Alarcó. Some commentators have theorized that this was due to Wiles' slightly superior shot-stopping being more useful late on, while a few have cast doubts on the ageing Alarcó's stamina, but whatever it was, the change did coincide with Flames perking up.

Their supporters' unwavering faith appeared well-placed as their heroes began imposing themselves, as the Birds' wild advances began spluttering out. With an almost zen-like calmness, Flames dug deep into their annals on coping with tension, and they began to construct interesting moves with near-superhuman patience. Minutes ticked by, but they would not be rushed - just yet.

This stance ground away at Grilled's more active nature, which was just what the wily Flames side were waiting for. Finally, Low Aik Jia lost the ball in an ill-advised attempt to beat two men by himself, and Lajos Rajeczki was off in a flash. Gene Filippone could but keep the Hungarian on the outside, which however meant that Dotan was left free to level the score with the most basic of headers on the undefended cross.

The Flames section of the stands exploded in response, as this was just what they were waiting for - and if the script went their way, Grilled's famously unreliable defence would now buckle, and their team would plunder a couple more to seal victory.

Sad to say, this did not happen. The Birds side might have looked downcast as they took up their positions for the restart, but they absolutely exploded into action upon the whistle. Low Aik Jia's defining career moment thus far had been his bicycle kick against Random Curiosity FC that helped Grilled win the Singapore Cup three seasons back, but he would submit a strong contender today.

Taking Tian's short pass in his stride past Giscard Van Dyck, the 25 year-old heartthrob cranked up the dial, and went against the Flames backline in full flight. All of Zolich's expertise could not save him against so guileless a challenge, and once Low managed somehow to keep control after Zolich had committed himself, it remained only to put it past Wiles, which he did.

The Flames contingent could hardly believe that a single moment of individual brillance had messed up their plans, but more was to come. Their impressive composure would count against them when Zhao Jing Wei made a rare interception two minutes later, and they simply did not have the numbers to repel Grilled's rather more excitable mob of players. French captain Matthias Trémoulet managed to nick it off Mohd Safri, but this was merely delaying the inevitable as Lee Lee Hao arrived to bring it inside and score.

The two goals had barely registered - with the scoreboard still frozen at three-all - when Chow Ying Lee completed a dream day for himself. Before this, only the fondly-remembered Hidde van Liere had managed a hat-trick for Grilled in a Cup final, though with a few coming close. Chow would join van Liere with his third goal in the 79th minute, with his tried-and-tested hit-and-run technique, as the overstressed Zolich gave up the ghost.

As if on cue, the scoreboard finally blinked thrice to add three additional lines, and not even the most fanatic Flames fan could now realistically think of a comeback. Their representatives did comport themselves respectably enough, but there was no hint that they could dig themselves out of this hole.

The last few minutes were quiet, in start contrast to the buzz that had surrounded the bulk of the contest, and goalscorers Chow Ying Lee and Lee Lee Hao took a slow walk off when their numbers came up, to a standing ovation from the Grilled stands.

    Plugged In The Pug
    Humble Pie
    The Eagle Has Flown
    Too Hot To Handle
    The Winning Feeling
    A Special Reversal
    All Open Again
    Junior Steps Up
    Pearls Before The Fire
    No Heat Like This
2016-08-01 00:37:41
anonymous: Thanks for the special mention :) I would just like to expre...
2015-08-17 18:50:02
anonymous: excellent read as always!- Yjorn
2015-06-13 03:08:41
anonymous: Rasha say
2014-12-14 16:56:39
gilbertlim: well, it seemed like that.
2014-12-12 18:26:33
anonymous: I didn't play a 4-5-2
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