Brave, Ballsy, Busted
Holland-based III.9 outfit ThreeB had the Birds sweating for a bit at their cosy stadium, with the latter only truly managing to pull away after an hour had passed. It was a remarkable showing from the rank underdogs, aided perhaps by the inclement weather preventing Grilled's technical advantages from standing out; still, the eventual scoreline would reflect the disparity between the sides.
Despite their near-perfect run to the IV.58 championship last season, it was hard to justify ThreeB prevailing here, given that they had struggled to put Lawrence, KS FC away in the first round, before getting hammered by an average-looking Moeinsingapore over the weekend. That said, they did have a bona-fide top-class star in S$8.6 million Polish striker Rafał Łysakowski, who was ably supported by Italian sidekick Lazzaro De Franco. With Grilled running a reserve defence of Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
, Hoàng Trung Quá
and Eren Serpin
, a goal or two was not out of the question.
That was in fact exactly what they achieved, within the first seventeen minutes. Quite a number of the Grilled stars were less than enthused to be spending Wednesday morning drenched, in stark contrast to the hosts, who were well up for it. What ThreeB lacked in raw skill they more than compensated for with workrate, and won a corner in the 10th minute. Eren Serpin
did his reputation no favours as he flubbed the routine catch, leaving a delighted Eliodoro Namorado to stick the fumbled ball into the back of the net.
Serpin's teammates could afford to be charitable, given that it was early days yet, and they moreover had plenty left in the tank, if so required. While the conditions did not permit many clever or subtle touches, Grilled were not altogether that dainty, and former internationals Bernie Egan
could get down and dirty if needed. Egan's disarmingly-direct run would be headed off by Dutch goalie Harm Schakel at the last instant, but Chu Xin Lee
happened to be in the right spot to tap home the equalizer.
ThreeB would find themselves back ahead immediately from the kickoff, as they went for the madcap flooding of Grilled's penalty area, with Roddy Webster putting the kick-off as high into the air as he could. It was a quite crude and blatant gambit, but as it turned out, a successful one - several players would collapse in a heap as they jostled for position, and that was enough for referee Xander Schinkels to give the penalty. Gualtiero Ceccato polished it off all business-like, after Schinkels had finally gotten Moey Xin Seng
to stop complaining, by threatening a booking.
Grilled were unamused, and would soon mob the opposition box too. Harm Schakel made an excellent save off Chan Ze Han
in the 24th, but Kalki Parvathaneni
would manage to glance an Egan cross past him, some minutes later. Otherwise, the Birds would find themselves frustrated, with the pitch becoming only heavier as the rain continued pelting down.
Their fortunes would improve as the storm cleared, and as Hovaness Noubaryan
got concerned enough to send Bhavya Panigrahi
and Yuta Nakakita
on for the second half. ThreeB had apparently also overexerted themselves badly in matching Grilled, with Namorado no longer able to shore up their weak points through non-stop running. With Ceccato and local winger Taylor Ishikawa unable to make further inroads on the flanks, there was only one way this was going to turn out.
The Birds' quality would start to win out, and Bernie Egan
was the main architect, as he absolutely overwhelmed Ceccato on the right. One of his advances would result in Kalki's second, though to be fair the Number 37 still had to find a small gap there. Egan would go it himself in the 67th minute despite Chan Ze Han
calling for the ball in the middle; Chan wasn't the type to bear grudges, though, and was the first to congratulate Egan when the shot crept over the line.
It was turning out to be a horrible day for Eren Serpin
, contrary to how his team had done in general. Having had nothing much at all to do in the second half, Serpin would wind up getting headbutted in the ribs by his own defender, as the duo rushed at a mid-height cross. That was curtains for the Austrian custodian, with Krystian Rykowski
sent on to close out the match.
Grilled were not done with the scoring by a long shot, and Vikram Mudaliar
for one had been biding his time, like a good predator. Now moving at a speed that no opposition defender could quite follow, he poached a free-kick in the 80th minute, before finishing another from close up, in injury time. Chan Ze Han
would get his goal too, from a neat volley with Schakel playing it overly loose with his positioning.