Yuta Still Young
In the wake of the disappointing home defeat to Fringeheads, Grilled Birds would get back on the victory road against Ethiopian II.2 members, Gambela Grottis. It would be 6-2 to the Birds in Gambela, with senior centreback Yuta Nakakita
the unexpected spark, as he found the first two goals.
Grottis, an affiliate of Germany's Grottenkicker, had promoted from Division Three last season on the back of a smart blend of young and old. While the drawbacks of that strategy have shown up, with several veterans including Massimiliano Mario Spena and Josu Labayen Aranzabe nursing possibly career-ending injuries, this has remained enough for them to acquit themselves respectably a division higher, and Peruvian goalkeeper Hamilton Bernal's arrival for about S$4.1 million further shored an already-fine defence up.
It would be local custodian Tekalign Tadele who started against Grilled, however, despite Polish head coach Wiesiek Malicki keeping with the club's favoured 3-4-3. All the flash was reserved for the front line, particularly homegrown Number Nine Harka Bekele; his partners, Chilean Alonso Werner and Polish Patryk Radłowski, brought their own attributes to the relatively young attack. Salah Kamel
would be the main man for Grilled having missed the big league clash through suspension, with wingers Heng Dong Chu
and Cyril Künzler
also out to reaffirm their worth.
The start was scrappy enough, if mostly going the Birds' way, and Leonard Nguyen
would pump what was perhaps the first opportunity of note, more or less right at Tadele in the eleventh minute. Yuta Nakakita
would show him how it should be done, with a measured chip in the 17th. This would be upped to 2-0 after 34 minutes, after Bekele's repeated attempts to get through would be parlayed into a sustained Grilled press, from which Yuta finished Heng's cross spectacularly.
The 37 year-old Yuta had certainly not expected to play such a part in this friendly, but seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously nonetheless. Grottis would continue focusing almost all of their defensive attention on Vikram Mudaliar
- as well they should - leaving the striker nearly no room to operate on the ball. This did open plenty of space up for his mates, amongst of which Leonard Ngyuen would benefit, with an open shot for the third goal.
cruelly dashed Yuta's hopes of a hat-trick by taking him off at half-time, which also had Mudaliar being assigned the captaincy. Yee Jian Hui
also left for Dante Tran
, and it was fair to say that the combined effect was not exactly to the Birds' good. The loss of Yuta's experience in bolstering Grilled's advances gave the hosts confidence, and a bad read between substitute Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
and goalkeeper Louis Vara
nearly let Assefe Bayisa in, 55 minutes on.
Matters hardly improved for the Birds, and there would be some excellent cheer for Grottis forthcoming. Harka Bekele might have been coolly marshalled by a businesslike Mateja Jeftić
, but this left his strike partners to be handled by frankly lesser defenders. Radovan Jaška
tried his best to stick with Alonso Werner as Bekele held it up in the 69th minute, but was doomed to failure as Werner shook him off classily, and reduced the scoreline to 3-1.
More would come from the home team, and they managed a second goal barely two minutes later. They turned out to be well capable of going the direct route too, as Alem Kebede curved a fifty-yarder right where Assefe Bayisa wanted it, from deep within his own half. Prokop Mottl
would try to slow the Grottis skipper down, but defending was never his forte, and Bayisa would get it right against Vara this time.
If the home crowd were watching for an equalizer, and just maybe, a winner, they would be let down soon enough. As it happened, the Birds had a lot left in the tank, with plenty of that for Salah Kamel
, who remained positively bristling with unspent energy at this stage. All it took was Leonard Nguyen
finding the right weight on his loft forward, and Kamel took care of the rest, nicking it past Tadele with a deft flick.
Mudaliar would then seek - and get - a penalty against Luc Bravard, that Mateja Jeftić
hit low and hard for 5-2. Kohei Okuya
replaced Radovan Jaška
for the final ten minutes, and would score on his first possession.