Barca Late Bang
Liow Leads Way
Like last season, Grilled wouldn't be able to get past FC Barca Singapore in the cup, though they did come closer with three instead of two goals to four. It was testament to Tang Kim Jin's willingness to experiment with his lineup, then, that only five players today featured then too - Mok Tze Seng, though he had passed the armband on to the just-arrived Roger Frick, Liow Kok Aik, Francis Poissonnet, Leon Frederik Zirkowitsch and most prominently Belgian hotshot Gregor Dembélé, who got a brace then. Krystian Wiatrak, of course, would be out with an ankle concern.
In contrast, the only change to the Birds' starting XI was Kalki Parvathaneni
in, Chu Xin Lee
out, with Kalki having come on as a sub then furthermore. For all of Hovaness Noubaryan
's platitudes about trusting his wingers, it was clear that they hadn't impressed him yet in training, thus the narrow midfield again. Barca weren't heading the S-League for nothing, however, and their 4-4-2 was evidently designed with the containment of Chan Ze Han
in particular mind.
It remained an open enough affair with opportunities aplenty for everyone, following a cagey first half an hour where kicking the ball out of play was best policy; the first shot on target arose from the tip of Poissonnet's boot, but Massoud Dob
managed to tip the wickedly-swerving shot around his post. Nothing came of that corner, and several minutes later, it was Moey Xin Seng
barely missing contact on Neeraj Muthyala
's exceptional cross. Gilbert Webb
was prepared just in case that happened, but his urgent blast would be straight into Frick's stomach.
The 36 year-old Liechtenstein keeper, formerly known for his two-and-a-half season stint at -= Manchester United =-, would stay on the ground clutching his prize, and referee Ignacio Vivo allowed a break in play for the medics to assess him. No lasting damage was found, and Barca exploded forward from Frick's huge goal kick. Zirkowitsch was first to it and launched it into the middle, where Liow Kok Aik completely skinned Bhavya Panigrahi
for an easy pot into the far end of goal. It was frankly kind of disappointing from Panigrahi, who had no reason to be on the wrong side of Liow there.
Worse was to come for Grilled as Liow doubled up, as Vikram Mudaliar
got caught with the ball probing for an opening, at the edge of Barca's penalty area. The race was on as Mario Delmotte nicked the ball forward with perfect weight, such that neither Grilled's defenders nor Dob managed to reach it before Liow. 2-0.
Grilled did recover on their next try, with Islom Davlatov
finding the net after some incisive passing from Bilal and Moey, but one couldn't shake the feeling that FC Barca Singapore retained the upper hand here. The second half brought another problem for the Birds, as Kalki Parvathaneni
fell heavily running for a long pass. Grilled would try waiting for him to return, but after he indicated lingering pain, Prokop Mottl
would be given his day in attack.
The Czech reserve didn't disappoint either, as he covered ground like a man possessed, nearly harrying the Barca defence into a forced mistake in the 64th minute that would have allowed Bernie Egan
an open goal. Aleksi Harmoinen reacted just in time to prevent that, though. No matter, Mottl would continue plugging away, and slid fearlessly in to equalize after 72 minutes. Unfortunately, he would trip Neeraj Muthyala
onto himself in the process, and would have to go off too.
Then again, the Birds were doing quite well with their substitutions, from how Cyril Künzler
livened the match up in his own way upon entering. Few had seen him stationed on the left, but Künzler didn't look at all out of place, instead adapting to cutting in in the style of modern wingmen. His pace was certainly as applicable as ever, and he cut straight to the byline in the 78th minute, and appeared to have assisted Moey for a headed goal. Replays however showed that the cross had clearly curled behind the line, unfortunately, and the goal was withdrawn.
Grilled's adrenaline was fading as the game entered its final stages, and they lost their organization more than once against Barca's disciplined distribution. Still, it was Gilbert Webb
who had first bite at the cherry with a strong dribble past all challengers with five minutes left, but he would have his credible penalty shout denied, after being swept off his feet by Frick's committed lunge at his feet. Barca weren't waiting for the referee to change his mind, and pushed it up the left at a frenetic pace, with Mok Tze Seng eventually bundling the counterattack home.
More woe was to come as the Birds' desperate kick-off gambit failed miserably, with Greimel further upping the score to 4-2, and Gregor Dembélé pointedly hunkered down in defence once the two-goal cushion was established. Ironically, Chan Ze Han
managed to work his way through their packed backline to pull another back, but this was as far as the Birds would get.