Onto The Finals
Canache At The Death
Real Balmoral produced a high-octane draw at a packed-to-the-rafters Balmoral Arena, where close to 37000 tickets were sold for Grilled's visit. The buyers definitely got their money's worth, and the bulk of them would be edified by their faith in their team, as Petre Canache came up with the vital equalizer just before full time.
Balmoral had to be second-favourites after their 5-0 spanking at The Pot, but they would receive a Grilled team that didn't try to hide this not being their priority. Vikram Mudaliar
, so lethal against them last week, wouldn't start, along with Neeraj Muthyala
, due to their being on two yellow cards. Algerian international goalkeeper Massoud Dob
didn't even make the trip down to Orchard, as Polish reserve Krystian Rykowski
made his first start since Red Chaos two seasons ago.
While some might have whispered whether this reservation of strength was wise, cup semifinal hero Bilal Mohammad Harun
was always more about action than words. Sighting a defence in disarray following the washing-out of Balmoral's probing drive, he fully engaged centreback Canache alongside keeping an eye out for free teammates. Moey Xin Seng
would eventually call for it on the right, but Bilal had by then entered a sprint - which was just as well, as he found the right window to chip Gianpaolo Pezzoni.
This was hardly the greatest of starts for the hosts, but they were mentally prepared this time, from how they kept tight. There was little question that they had been told to yield as little room as possible, and the players executed that order to the best of their abilities. The Birds didn't fare too well against that suffocating press, and German forward Fabian Harnisch would tie it up in the 22nd minute, as Michel Battaglia found him waiting down the right, hanging off Yuta Nakakita
And then, they were ahead. It was Harnisch once more just five minutes later, as Balmoral demonstrated that they had an additional gear or two in the bag. An almost-tired back-and-forth between Zoltán Koller and Hoss Tuckey suddenly burst into life, as the latter showed Islom Davlatov
a clean pair of heels with an unexpected twist. Before Grilled knew exactly how to react, Harnisch had made himself available in front of goal, and his ballet-like tiptoe stretch beat Rykowski by the finest of margins.
The home fans thoroughly enjoyed the turnaround, and positivity began to spread through Real Balmoral's play. They probably should have stayed with what worked, however, as this opening-up likely aided Grilled's cause more than their own. Tuckey left Davlatov to his own devices to the hosts' detriment, as Davlatov managed to break with Moey ahead of him. The Grilled skipper would once more become a decoy, as Davlatov faked a pass, only to continue his run and score with a banger of a daisycutter.
It was all back to square one as the teams went in for the break, and it remained to be seen which of them might return all the better for it. Real Balmoral quickly revealed that their style would remain unchanged from after Harnisch's double, as they came out swinging. Grilled were also in attacking mode, and first to draw blood, as Chan Ze Han
embarked on a fabulous one-man mission in the 50th minute. None could stop the 22 year-old superstar, and Chan would slip it past Pezzoni having gotten away from three men en route.
Energized, Grilled and Chan in particular stepped it up, and it would be Óscar Buj who would take the fall. Twice outrun by Vikram Mudaliar
last week, the young Spaniard continued to be targeted by Grilled's forwards, despite him stopping several runs excellently, earlier on. Davlatov's number came up as he accelerated right as Buj stumbled, and it was 4-3. Fortunately for Real Balmoral, they would bite back immediately through Manne Dehlfeldt's curling effort from the right, lest they sink again into depression.
The Birds still looked set to win this one, though, and Chan Ze Han
almost did the trick with his outlandish skills to put Jorge Jándula behind him, in the 74th minute. The Balmoral players weren't amused, seeing as they had been shouting for the game to be stopped after Harnisch had been felled roughly by Gilbert Webb
at the other end. In the end, Harnisch would have to come off for Arun Mirikar, while Tuckey would be cautioned for haranguing referee Fabrizio Zaupa, despite several warnings to stop.
As the remaining time slipped away, Grilled coach Hovaness Noubaryan
was a picture of contentment, as his wager on resting several key personnel appeared to have paid off. With two minutes remaining, he would put the foot in by introducing two substitutes - first, Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
in for Gilbert Webb
, and only after that Prokop Mottl
in for Florus Romijn
. There was little doubt what he was after, given that they took place one after the other, and not together, which the Balmoral fans didn't like.
As it happened, the home team would have the last laugh, as Noubaryan's decision backfired. Mohd Jafni turned out not to be adequately prepared, and he was left stepping into empty air as Dehlfeldt took him on with Balmoral's last assault of the day. Grilled had the numbers back, but Dehlfeldt squared it to Petre Canache, whose wild shot took a huge deflection off Yuta Nakakita
into the net.