A Side Divided
It has gotten to the point where the Birds can't buy a win, as they were soundly defeated 1-4 by Trinidad & Tobago hosts, Divlji micani. Divlji had been living it up in II.2, and while they matched reserve team with reserve team - keeping stars like Chinese striker Yang Fahong out, for one - they retained enough defensive nous to school Grilled here.
Founded by Croatian expats with a connection to the long-established wildwildcats club, Divlji had made a reputation for themselves in the Caribbean, and like the Birds had fielded a quality midfield three exemplified by German warrior Nick Benninghoven. Where Divlji maintained a total mismatch, however, was in goal where Finnish veteran Mika Takalahti captained the side; Takalathi was rated by no means any lesser than regular starter Ludovic Nègre, reflecting the depth that they had in that critical position.
The Birds did themselves justice in the first exchanges, and Irishman Bernie Egan
was for one especially eager to put himself forward. Prokop Mottl
and José Luiz Velho
, Grilled's forwards for the day, obliged with plenty of opportunistic rushes. This set the stage brilliantly for 22 year-old Yee Jian Hui
, who had started his first match in almost one-and-a-half seasons. Coming in intelligently from the right wing for Velho, who had vacated his position, Yee paid no heed to Takalahti's ample experience, as he jinked his way past the goalie's attempted block to all but walk the ball into the net.
That would be the first and last time that Takalahti would be beaten today, and he advertised a much better image of himself against Jérémy Tarin
. He would follow Tarin's magical lob towards Velho to the bitter end in the 23rd minute, avoiding what would have been for many keepers an embarassing miscue. Several minutes later, Tarin's free-kick would swish inches over, due to what seemed a hair's breadth touch. Referee Marvin Druppers didn't see it this way, and entirely ignored calls by the Grilled players for a corner.
Divlji's renaissance would begin here, and they were back on equal terms on their next major possession, with hometown trainee Desmond Jefferson advancing on Islom Davlatov
, before pulling off a through pass that Benninghoven latched on to score from. Eren Serpin
could again have done better a bit later, with Pau Canyet's passable drive somehow trickling over the line for 2-1.
This goal was met heartily by the over seven thousand souls that the friendly fixture had managed to attract, which was just as well, since there wouldn't be much to raise their interest for quite some time. The half-time break came and went with Dante Tran
on for Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
, as the match mostly degenerated into an uncreative slog in the middle.
The action picked up again about the 75th minute, as the Birds reserves started to lose their shape, in their desire to find an equalizer. Egan had surely expected somebody to back him up as insurance, as he retreated towards his own goal seeking an outlet, only to realize that no-one was available. Benninghoven's hanging cross had more than a few men fighting for it, and fullback Ato Mitchell would be the unlikely scorer, as he placed his header into the bottom corner, after Antonio Zwettler and Chan Ze Han
had cancelled each other out.
An abortive foray led by Davlatov backfired badly, and Antonio Zwettler would find Divlji's fourth goal against an outnumbered Grilled defence. There would then be a spate of substitutions, which started with Prokop Mottl
departing for Leonard Nguyen
, having further aggravated an earlier groin injury. Velho would leave too for Pompeo Bellamoli
, and the hosts made their three changes after Dante Tran
received the only yellow of the game, that for timewasting.