Loghmani On Left
Dubai-based Al Amiri League club Excalibur Lions outworked a mixed Grilled lineup that made its way to the United Arab Emirates for their last friendly of the season, and won convincingly by five goals to two. The Birds would clearly suffer without their best forwards being fielded, and a stellar shift by acting captain Vikram Mudaliar
was not enough to worry the Lions' defensive line with any regularity.
Excalibur Lions' pride would be well-travelled 30 year-old Saudi right winger Mazin Basheer Al-Hanthaly, whose 31 caps for the Green Falcons and close to S$100 million in career transfer fees belied a relative lack of trophies; a single German fifth division winners' medal could hardly be the sum of Mazin's ambitions, a sentiment concurred with by former Trinidad & Tobago U-20 defender Aadhira Kothari, who is also seeking a national title to go with his two Division Two honours.
From the raw efficiency exhibited in an old-school 4-4-2, the Lions certainly had the ingredients required, as their supposed numbers disadvantage in midfield was more than made up for by the quality of their wingers. Heng Dong Chu
was entirely subdued when placed against the apparently bottomless invention of Mazin, while Toma Tamiya
was honestly never going to match up with Mahram Loghmani on level terms. Worse, the duo were adept at switching flanks to sow additional confusion, which Mazin did in the 27th minute to great effect, leading to a cracking opener.
wouldn't do his stated intent of challenging Jānis Salmiņš
for the starting goalkeeper's role much good with his showing today, as he then leaked two more goals in the next four minutes. Neither were gimmes, but one could not help but imagine that he could have done better, when Juan Najarro stumbled slightly on receiving the ball in the 30th. A lack of initiative saw plenty of space to aim at for the Chilean, though, and Loghmani would then get on the scoresheet by shooting through a less-than-convincing four-man wall.
Grilled did stabilize a little as the calmer heads of Wu Jinglong
and Kalle ter Berg
conspired to clog things up in the centre, and the Birds would hobble to half-time just three goals down, which seemed a good bargain given how the Lions were absolutely killing it on the wings. Grilled restarted more strongly than they had, but the same story soon repeated itself, with Kothari overlapping down the right side to make it 4-0, 58 minutes in.
José Luiz Velho
hadn't gotten much joy against Usman Abacha at left attack, and his day looked to be getting even worse, when he had his right thigh accidentally raked by the doughty Nigerian centreback in the 69th minute. Abacha was admittedly apologetic, and Velho would be back on his feet, after some magic spray. The Lions then took to testing Grilled centrally, and the Birds would pass these examinations, even if Loghmani did ping the crossbar on a counterattack.
The match would finally begin to turn the Birds' way in the final ten minutes, perhaps more due to the hosts stepping it down, than any of their own efforts. Whatever it was, Vikram Mudaliar
's graft would earn them a corner in the 82nd minute, and Grilled wouldn't be shy about throwing men into the box, given the circumstances. Heng Dong Chu
saw how Wu Jinglong
's delivery would go, and did very well to time his rush to perfection, for a powerful bullet header past Bruno Giordanengo.
More eyelids would perk as Prokop Mottl
further reduced to 4-2, following some extremely agile dribbling by Vikram Mudaliar
, to get away from Kothari; sadly, the limelight would remain with Mahram Loghmani, who duly did much the same at the other end and had Vadalà picking out the ball from his net for a fifth time.