Champions Of Singapore
A Fate Fulfilled
It might have taken sixty long seasons, but Grilled Birds would finally ascend to the pinnacle, as they won the double by capturing their first S-League title this day. The brief was simple - win against The EV, by at most three goals less than Sarcastic Fringeheads if it came down to that, and history would be theirs. In the end, it would be something of an anticlimax as the Fringeheads proved to be in pretty bad shape against Bot Team FC, who schooled them at the Kandang Harimau.
Of course, all this was yet to be known at this point, and most of the speculation had revolved around Eren Serpin
's picks for this conclusion to what would be a wonderful season, by any measure. His transfer strategy would manifest itself here, with recent signings Kalle ter Berg
and Salah Kamel
now comprising the core of the team's midfield; Bilal Mohammad Harun
would maintain his remarkable record of starting all Grilled's competitive games this season at right wing, while record signing Heng Dong Chu
was called upon on the other flank.
With Vikram Mudaliar
still reportedly mired in lacklustre form, and Kalki Parvathaneni
suspended, the front three all but picked itself - Moey Xin Seng
and Chan Ze Han
, in the partnetship that the fans had dreamt of since Chan received the baton from Moey at the Chicken Wings academy, and former Irish international Bernie Egan
, who had just claimed the cup Golden Boot.
The EV, for their part, were more or less assured of finishing in fifth place, due to Haha's scheduled walkover, and a practically-insurmountable goal difference advantage over Arrogancae. Given this, they could be forgiven for reserving their strength for the qualifiers, but pride dictated that Mario Velasco not have his team roll over at home - not with all eighty thousand tickets sold out minutes after going on offer, to both Grilled supporters eager to witness the club's biggest moment, and The EV's own faithful, largely enamoured of new revelation João Infante Amanajás.
The hosts did make a couple of changes from the side that had greeted Grilled at the beginning of the season, with Chang Wai Rong kitting up in midfield in place of Chng Puay Leng. The unstoppable Amanajás was a no-brainer pick up top, but he would be supported by Zbyněk Ševeček rather than the recovering Alois Štajer today. The back three remained constant, though the Giovanni Fiorilli-marshalled unit would present itself far more centrally than before, likely from previous experience.
If the spectators were expecting instant fireworks, however, they were to be sorely mistaken. For all of Serpin's talk about goals, the fact remained that the Birds entered this with a three-goal cushion, and they were not about to let undue haste complicate matters if it could be helped; if they allowed The EV to open, then they could very well need to reply twice, what more against a pretty competent team on defense. Much hinged on how Fringeheads did, obviously, and there could be little doubt that Grilled's technical personnel were monitoring their fixture very closely.
This dreary waiting game lasted for half an hour, encouraged probably by the same happening for the Bots versus Fringeheads, before the pivotal breakthrough in the 31st minute. Grilled might not have been overly forward, but they had unequivocally dominated possession, and if The EV were planning to operate on the counter, there had been scarce evidence that they could do so. Indeed, Grilled had them entirely pinned down when Chan Ze Han
shifted the ball around for Chu Xin Lee
's charge, and the veteran Number Nineteen calmly placed his finish past Rizvi Younes with his less-favoured foot.
There would be more joyful news, as it filtered through that Paride Bolognini had similarly put Bot Team FC ahead, following a terrible miss from Fringeheads' Hans Heinrich Merkatz. That said, they hardly had a monopoly on comical errors, with Chu getting his legs tangled up when it seemed easier to score, in the 39th. Referee Miroslav Tůma had allowed play to continue after Yeoh Cheng Lai had gone to ground clutching his right thigh, and Chng would be ordered to replace him, when it became clear that Tůma had no intention of allowing an extended stoppage.
Amanajás then replied for The EV, as the 26 year-old Angolan left no doubt about him being the most dominating striker in the league by far. While he had been regarded as something of an aerial specialist previously, he has since showcased a quite frightening completeness, and there was little more that Grilled's defence could have done as he executed a silky-smooth exchange down the right. Bhavya Panigrahi
got in close but never quite enough, as Amanajás feinted subtly before banging the equalizer in against Massoud Dob
Further dismay followed as Fringeheads won a penalty, but it then got very nice very rapidly for the Birds. Vincent Chan slotted it just shy of the left post, about the same second as Chan Ze Han
bamboozled Ján Gemer to put Grilled back into the lead. More welcome goals arrived in quick succession, with Moey Xin Seng
piling it on against a downed The EV, for 3-1 in the 42nd minute. Younes would then save from Bilal Mohammad Harun
, but Grilled got something almost as good, as Bot Team FC extended their lead through Niels Grevenbrück.
Half-time thus saw Grilled Birds' goal advantage widened to seven, and although one could hardly conceive of a situation in which they could let that
slip, Serpin and company were certainly taking no chances at all. There was no hint of satisfaction as they returned for the second half, with local leaders Moey and Chan seen very pointedly reminding their teammates of all that was at stake.
This was probably just as well, given The EV's own quality, though it was definitely going very well for Grilled elsewhere. Sarcastic Fringeheads were a shadow of their usual self, as they tamely conceded a third goal to Phang Lai Chuan's industrious run. Vincent Chan's confidence appeared completely destroyed, and he would eventually be replaced by Heine Andreassen, but that didn't prevent Oleg Konaev from making it 4-0 Bots in short order.
The Birds definitely wouldn't have it all their way, not with João Infante Amanajás still in such a mood. Few defences have managed to deny him this year, and the Birds weren't about to be an exception. Panigrahi never seemed particularly comfortable against Amanajás' unceasing movement, and would be caught out again, when Naji Hatoum put it in behind in the 68th minute.
Still, 3-2 ahead with Fringeheads being 0-4 down with fifteen minutes to go was about as ideal a situation that Eren Serpin
could have hoped for, and he would cautiously make his first substitution - Mateja Jeftić
off, Yuta Nakakita
on. This appeared the signal for Grilled to cut loose, and Moey Xin Seng
crashed a remarkable strike at the far corner on their next attack, only for Lars Smalbil to hack it off the line.
Fringeheads were also noticeably cranking the pace up, and the transfer-listed Wu Jinglong
would put one past Nicolas Jardin in the 76th minute. If this was a challenge, however, the Birds were more than prepared to answer it, and Heng Dong Chu
went a long way towards rebutting his critics with his merciless seizing upon of Yuriy Benko's indecision. Ján Gemer tried to recover, but Heng's speed in reserve ensured that he could not be caught, as he upped Grilled's lead to 4-2.
It would then get fairly interesting as Fringeheads began to completely turn the tides over in Toa Payoh, with Wu at the forefront. A second goal followed in the 82nd minute, and Bot Team FC would be further shaken up by an injury to the influential Fabio Trasferti. Wu would complete a quite remarkable hat-trick in the 85th minute, and the way things were going, not some few had to have muttered that maybe
the title wasn't quite Grilled's yet - especially after bad misfires from Salah Kamel
and Chu Xin Lee
in the same period.
That was about as far as Fringeheads could go, thankfully, as Eren Serpin
calmly spent his remaining substitutions. Vikram Mudaliar
and Cyril Künzler
, who had contributed so much to this campaign, would deservedly take their time in their entrances. Bhavya Panigrahi
's goal in time added on - scored as The EV went for broke - would wind up mingling with the general explosion of celebrations, as the Grilled section of the gallery had to restrain themselves from invading the pitch, until Tůma's whistle made it all official.