Settled In Thirty
It would be the first time that the clubs had met in ten seasons, but little had chanced since then, as Grilled failed to defeat FC Barca Singapore for the fourth time in a row. Barca adapted well, dropping forward Krystian Wiatrak almost into midfield, and the big Pole wound up getting a brace nonetheless.
The Birds went for possession, with Hovaness Noubaryan
having taken some lessons from their tourney loss to Agharti 23 FC, only to trip up at the first asking. Vikram Mudaliar
, never exactly a natural distributer, wasn't watching Taşkın Felin as he went for the instinctual crossfield ball, which was duly intercepted by the Turk; Mudaliar did try to make up for his own mistake, but Gregor Dembélé had several yards on the defenders as Felin released him, and the forward took care of Massoud Dob
without much trouble.
There would then be a long stoppage after new Taiwanese fullback Mo Kunyi clattered Bernie Egan
into the hoardings, as they ran for a long pass from kick-off. Grilled improved after the unscheduled break, and displayed much purpose in spreading the ball about. The returning Neeraj Muthyala
showed few signs of rust as he teased ex-Bolivian U-20 defender Rómulo Abastoflor bringing it forward, before playing a razor-sharp one-two with Moey Xin Seng
to level the score at one apiece, in the 13th minute.
The storm would then break for Barca, as they began to beat Grilled at their own game. They kept play in their own half with great patience, skilfully deflecting the Birds' attempts at pressing thanks to good technique, and waited for opportunity to present itself. They didn't have too long to wait, and after Gilbert Webb
miscalculated in crowding Wiatrak, he got left behind by the Pole's prescient turn. Grilled did have Bhavya Panigrahi
and Chan Ze Han
guarding the middle, but Wiatrak simply took it all the way by his lonesome.
It would be 3-1 barely four minutes later, as Wiatrak came up with the most basic of run-ups from a corner, relying on his commitment to scatter all opposition. Massoud Dob
's reactions prevented that bullet header from tearing the net, but he had no control over where the ball would go, and it would be bundled in by Dembélé. That could well have been Wiatrak's hat-trick, as he flaunted his full repertoire with a skipping potshot from out wide next.
The Birds were on the verge of crumbling, and were only just kept together by Chan Ze Han
's timely strike in the 29th. Chan's composure and balance was a thing to behold, as he coolly stepped back against Mok Tze Seng to momentarily confuse the veteran skipper, before bursting forward the moment Bilal Mohammad Harun
released the through pass. Canadian goalie Clarence Wood tried to intimidate Chan into taking it early, only to be rounded in one graceful motion by the Number Eleven, who then extended his personal scoring streak to five matches.
Such highs would be extremely difficult to come by for Grilled after this, sadly. Barca retained a two-goal cushion, and were no longer of a mind to risk it unnecessarily. Unlike Grilled, they knew how to sit on a lead, and with hardworking advanced players such as Dembélé and Wiatrak, the Birds were left constantly questioning themselves as to how many attackers they could spare.
Dembélé for one had been an easy favourite since arriving from Dinamo Choson Rotem II some three weeks ago, and he spared nothing in harrying Webb and Panigrahi whenever the ball got dealt back to them. He was then rightly feted by the Barca faithful when subbed out for Loy Ah Kuan in the 70th minute, having nearly set Devan Nguyen up to score, and forcing Dob into backpedalling to keep his audacious lob out. Kalki Parvathaneni
had replaced Egan in midfield about ten minutes before, but was having the same problems creating chances.
The final twenty minutes or so were painful for Grilled, as the continually sought a way through, only to be repeatedly repelled by a Barca team that had sussed them out; there would be a nice touch at the end, with 38 year-old former national representative Vikas Alluri keeping up his record of appearing in all Birds-Barca clashes thu far. Cyril Künzler
had also come on for Muthyala, but to no avail.