The Birds advanced to the second round of the Hattrick Masters as odds-on favourite against Moldovan Divizia Naţională champions GLADIATORS_FC, who had become a pale shadow of their former selves in the few months since their second national triumph; gone were most of the superstars that had lifted them to the trophy, with the board having since authorized entirely baffling transactions, such as those for veterans Muharrem Terlan, Jan Reich and Elvis Oyono at unconscionable prices.
Grilled were hardly protesting this turn of affairs in the build-up to their scheduled meeting on neutral ground at Rakib Arena, home of Bangladeshi Division Two club Rakib Team. A possessing 120500-seater, the expansive concrete stadium would be roughly three-quarters filled for this first round game, moreover with temporary roofing erected to protect some of the choicest gallery seats from the seasonal rainfall.
The players on the field had no such luck, but it wasn't as if the Birds were entirely unused to these conditions. It wouldn't be quite enough to negate the chasm between themselves and the current GLADIATORS_FC squad either, for that matter, however strong Ismaèl Canyellas's will to win was. He had moreover taken a hit to his left knee in the midweek cup defeat to Distiliator, and a 0-7 crushing by Vieru on Sunday couldn't have inspired them much.
It took but four minutes before the Birds went ahead, as Moey Xin Seng
homed in on Gilbert Webb
's corner delivery to glance it past Florin Pănoiu, and the next minutes affirmed that Grilled were a cut or two above at this point in time. Despite the pouring rain limiting their passing, they were able to maintain near-total control of the ball, with the opponents' midfield core being the only ones even coming close.
There would be a short delay until Bhavya Panigrahi
could present the second goal in the 20th minute, if through no special effort of GLADIATORS_FC, who appeared determined to go down swinging, come what may. Their attempts to bypass Grilled's midfield through long balls were mostly wayward, however, in contrast to the Birds' more-directed attacks. Just before Panigrahi's well-struck finish, Webb had just rocked the woodwork, having unleashed a screamer with abandon off his favoured right foot.
The slightly out-of-favour Vikram Mudaliar
would then make his case for greater participation, having appeared in just one of the team's league games thus far this season. Mudaliar did have energy to burn as he slogged tirelessly for probable lost causes, and when the service actually came, Mudaliar would make the most of it. He found the net when a pinballing exchange between Salah Kamel
and Bernie Egan
found its way to him in the 22nd, and then when Chan Ze Han
rushed past Elvis Oyono on the outside, five minutes later.
Chu Xin Lee
would loft the fifth goal over Pănoiu off the top of his head in the 29th minute, not that the result had been in any doubt. Grilled were definitely enjoying themselves out there, but Eren Serpin
's main priority then was to get them all back home in one piece, as he eventually enforced with much gesticulating from the touchline.
Kalle ter Berg
replaced Bilal Mohammad Harun
at half-time, and the dynamic Dutchman took just six minutes to get himself on the scoresheet, as he drove forward via the most direct route - very effective against a defence that had gotten too accustomed to complex passing. Much of the initial spark was gone from Grilled, though, and about twenty minutes of dross would follow, before Chu made it 7-0 as Moey found him through the middle.
made his bid for a hat-trick with a wild 75th minute volley that swerved wide, which would be his last major contribution before coming off for Kalki Parvathaneni
with ten minutes remaining, which had Heng Dong Chu
replaced Chu Xin Lee
at the same time. Kalki would be booked for a mistimed tackle, before Chan Ze Han
and Bhavya Panigrahi
's late efforts went begging.