Grilled Birds were involved in one of their most mesmerizing friendly bustups in a long, long time, as they managed to lose to Yemeni II.2 hosts The Telegraph Bay Vikings... after taking the lead from no less than four goals down. Granted, neither were trying the hardest with their player selection, but there was no prior indication of the roughly ten-minute spans of complete one-sided devastation that would grace the day.
The Vikings had just made it to the second division last season, after three consecutive Division Three crowns, and the recent weeks have seen them absolutely massacre currently-rebuilding three-time Challenger Cup winners, Al Feldschloss Swisra. Italian star Giulio Bigaglia - who's celebrating his 30th birthday - rocked up with five goals in those games, and he would prove quite useful even at rightback today.
Grilled for their part unleashed Chan Ze Han
and Islom Davlatov
, the latter of whom did appear mildly disgruntled, despite Hovaness Noubaryan
's frequent dismissal of any complaints. José Luiz Velho
would start in between them, in his preferred centre-forward spot. Regular defender Bhavya Panigrahi
and Gilbert Webb
received more cross-training in midfield, while Manuel Vadalà
returned between the sticks.
The first half an hour barely hinted at the thrill to come, for whatever reason, but it all began to heat up when Panigrahi found at opening in the 29th minute. His competent grounder would be well saved by veteran Chinese custodian Ma Huaiqiang, though, and it would be the Vikings who went ahead four minutes on after a similar effort by Spanish Number Ten, Marc Ribelles.
The Birds would barely have the wherewithal to breathe in the next six minutes, as they were entirely ripped to ribbons by the hosts' frenzied running from all directions. By the time it was over, Grilled were 0-4 down and wondering what had hit them, as Teijo Kalliokuusi, Áron Bokrosi and Ribelles had their close-up strikes elude a hapless Vadalà.
Chan Ze Han
would pause the slaughter with a very classy ghosting of Giulio Bigaglia - never the most convincing of defenders - to draw one back, but there was little concern from the six thousand odd fans in attendance, who seemed to think it a sign of their team's generosity. Indeed, Grilled would do nothing to suggest otherwise for a time, even after Jérémy Tarin
's entry at half-time; Prokop Mottl
managed a slick bit of two-footed control to gain a step on Ville Sipolainen in the 49th, but snatched at the finish.
The Vikings would get slightly lackadaisical, and not wholly without reason, as the match lurched on, and Mottl would benefit in the 72nd minute, as Uruguayan sweeper Braulio Shur stood off him even as he measured his strike. True, Ma might have done better too against the telegraphed lob, but 4-2 with barely twenty minutes left remained entirely acceptable to the home side.
There would finally be some rumblings, after new Czech midfielder Radovan Jaška
demonstrated his fine understanding with Mottl, to nose ahead of the Vikings defenders to score a third in the 83rd minute. Captain Sipolainen wasn't amused any longer, but before he had finished with his instructions, the Birds would be level. Davlatov might not have done much before this, but his spin move to get away from Somaschini was exquisite, and José Luiz Velho
mopped up Ma's spill.
And then, the Birds turned it around completely. Chan Ze Han
's will to victory flashed forth once again, and he would dribble fearlessly towards the Vikings' now extremely vulnerable-looking goal. With his defenders otherwise gainfully engaged, it was down to Sipolainen himself to try and put the lid on Chan, only to be completely embarassed by his nimble footwork. Ma Huaiqiang definitely didn't exude confidence as Chan bore down upon him, and positioned himself much too far over to the near post.
Chan was celebrating almost before his outside-foot finish had rippled the net, but it wouldn't last long either, as Telegraph Bay Vikings suddenly rediscovered their lost mojo. With no time to spare, Teijo Kalliokuusi's urgency up their left flank transformed his team entirely, as Chirag Thevar
proved completely useless against his full pace. The cross was a tad too high for the many players attacking it in the six-yard box, and it would be the waiting Onofrio Vaiflo who would equalize, after collecting it calmly.
The crowd were getting themselves riled up for another half-hour of action, when Bigaglia ignited the slow-burning fuse, right as injury time began. Grilled weren't defending, and weren't doing much anything else either, and Yuta Nakakita
's moment of hesitancy would see the lanky Italian work himself into a good angle to shoot.
Clearly, the Birds weren't about to just give up at this, not when they had just struck thrice in the previous ten minutes. Islom Davlatov
would indeed scramble it into the net... but only after charging full-bore into the goalkeeper. A very long debate between Canadian referee Hugh Woodhouse and his assistants would follow, on whether that was a foul, and the final decision was: no goal, but no card either. Ma having to have oxygen administered might have swayed it, but in any case Grilled weren't eager to take the friendly much further.