No Dawn After
Be Champions FC proved invincible as they swept a willing but spent-looking Grilled team aside 5-1 in the Singapore Cup semifinals, thus making the Birds their fifteenth competitive scalp on the trot. Grilled had little to complain about as BCFC's complete package of a watertight defence bolted onto perhaps Singapore's finest midfield of the day limited their chances severely, though they might feel hard done by the eventual margin.
Of course, Grilled were hardly expected to prevail this time around, what with their opponents' form and the loss due to injury of centreback Gene Filippone
, but their fighting spirit had carried them through similar matchups twice last season. Again, Djan Bacelar
tasked Woon Shun An
with sitting back in midfield, while Clément Meyer
occupied a free supporting role on the left. Filippone's position was filled by Ang Leong Kum
, whose above-expectation performances in recent weeks led to him being preferred over veteran vice-captain Zhao Jing Wei
and conservative pick Rashid bin Ahmad
It was mostly academic against a BCFC XI in such form, unfortunately, and despite Tian Yonghang
doing his level best to get his compatriots going, the few additional years they had on wore heavily. With Foo Ah De lording it in the middle, Woon was hard-pressed to stem the absurdly-mobile BCFC setup, and nobody was looking in the sixth minute when Agasthya Vaidhyanathan swept in to put in a rather soft opener.
There was little sign that the Birds' offensive engine could get going under such an relentless assault, and BCFC were good enough to know not to let off; five minutes later, French winger Benoît Pouderoux found himself in the clear down the left, and stood play up as BCFC's men made for the penalty area. Ling Fuquan
did his best to throw Arnold Pang off, but this only left the cross to go through to the formidable Ali Ütkün, who couldn't miss such an open drive.
The Grilled support's worst fears had been realised, but hope was rekindled as the Birds finally got themselves together, thanks to some fine leadership initiative from Ang. The team spent maybe five minutes just steadying themselves in possession, and their newfound composure was rewarded in the 24th, as Chow Ying Lee
blew through on the right to hammer a reducer past Edmundo Ortega.
This was about as far as it got for the Birds, though, as they reverted to their initial indecisiveness almost instantly. Still, Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
should have equalised in the 33rd minute, but Dorin Bejan made a massive saving tackle, and Foo nearly polished off the counter. Feng Shifang then took over with what appeared a decent but stoppable flat header off Sebastian Göransson's cross from deep... only for Ang to try and help out, adding a slight deflection that carried it past Wong.
None of his teammates had the heart to recriminate, and Grilled in fact almost made it to half-time just a goal down. Their possession, while concentrated mainly in the middle third, would finally tell, and a sharp pull forward from Lee Lee Hao
triggered an instinctive leg out from Foo, which Lee gladly tripped over. It was a little far out, but Wong Ping Shun
nevertheless gave BCFC fans a sweaty moment, with his trademark full-on blast. The ball swerved wildly throughout, but Ortega kept his eye on it, and met it with a clearing punch.
There were few indications that Grilled had any better ideas after the fifteen-minute rest break, but to be fair, their recent successes had been built on a purely Route One approach to the game. And it might well yet have succeeded against a lesser defence, but Vaidhyanathan and Bejan were international-quality stars at the very peak of their powers.
The former's oft-underrated ability from corners then came to the fore in the 62nd minute, after Ütkün's presence encouraged Ling to put it behind. Mindful that they could not afford to go behind any further, the Birds packed the box, but BCFC's dominance extended to the air. Clément Meyer
went up together with Feng in what looked an equally-matched duel, but Feng had found that additional spring, and got half a head above the Frenchman to send it in, rattling off the inside of the post.
That psychologically broke Grilled's resistance at last, and they had to weather a storm from the now-ravenous BCFC. Eager for goals, they began testing the Birds' now-frantic backline in earnest, with Wong Tian Han
being called into action more than once, including a wondersave with his legs against Bennie van Wijk's thunderbolt. However, Feng would duly complete his fourth professional hat-trick, after Tian Yonghang
's solo dribble was stopped and the ball returned straight the other way.
There was no danger of the Birds managing a comeback now, but Mohd Safri could still have gotten what might well be his last goal at this stage of a national cup, after some quick feet by Lee carved the opportunity out for him in the 81st minute. Sadly, he had the ball nicked by van Wijk in mid-swing, which could well be the enduring image of the 34 year-old Grilled legend's slow yet unavoidable decline.