4 - 2 Grilled Birds
El Razzak's Trap
Haha had ridden the same setup to their cup final win over Grilled Birds last season, and head coach Salah Abd El Razzak certainly wasn't about to fix what wasn't broken, as they again dragged the Birds down with a pure counterattacking game at home. They might not have any huge names at the back, and Ursin de Rougemont might be seeking to leave, but it looks like it will take a heck of a team to bust them up.
The pain of last season's loss had yet to fade for most of the Grilled players, and with the Birds winless in their last three meetings with Haha, Eren Serpin
admitted that the team had entered the match on something of a mental disadvantage. Architect of their downfall Nasrul Haq Khairil Syahmi had since gone to Israeli Ligat Ha´al side pashosh, with Ng Yun Shi and Carlos Andino likewise moved on. However, for what was essentially a system independent of individual brillance, these departures would hardly rock the boat.
Results against Club Dinosauria and Sarcastic Fringeheads stood testament to that, and if there was no hint of pretense at what the hosts were attempting, that did not make it easier in the least for Grilled to deal with. Vikram Mudaliar
and Moey Xin Seng
might be two of the finest attackers in the local game today, but even they were outright suffocated by Haha's eagerness to press intensely from the back.
For all this, the question was not whether the Birds would be able to create, but what would come of it; Chan Ze Han
, for example, would spring Mudaliar through in the tenth minute after a long stretch of grinding against Haha's wall, or so he thought as the Number Nine was instantly set upon and dispossessed. At this, Haha's counterattacking mode flickered on, and the clearance out to Giuseppe Ghiringhelli would see him fend Gilbert Webb
off to open.
Grilled were no strangers to this by now, and their only recourse would be to go further on the offensive. This had Kalki Parvathaneni
mess Cory Trang's knee up in his rush to get the Birds back level, and Grilled would come very close to doing just that, when new Italian goalie Giuseppe Teani warded Mudaliar's strong header aside in the 24th minute. The danger wasn't over yet, though, as Bernie Egan
seized upon the rebound, only to lift it full onto the crossbar.
As it happened, the Birds would live to rue that miss, as the home defenders then smuggled the ball out of their own box with some very calm and composed passing. The rest of the pitch was as open as it had been for the match, which again gave Haha's specialized forward runners the space they needed to shine. Simon Mazlov's ability to switch between assured close control and simply pushing the ball past defenders was tailor-made for such situations, and he would make it 2-0 against the oncoming Jānis Salmiņš
It was really looking bad for Grilled at this point, and they were honestly fortunate to make it to half-time conceding just once more. No one had picked Isaac An up as Haha's corner practice came through in the 30th minute, and had Mazlov been more typically clinical, he could well have completed a hat-trick whatever Salmiņš did.
Whatever Grilled's coaches and team leaders said during the interval, it appeared to have minimal effect, as the hosts went straight back to running rings around the Birds on counters. It would be all but over after Cory Trang gave Jeftić the slip three minutes into the restart for 4-0, with Mazlov missing yet another big chance in the 52nd, as the Birds struggled to rouse themselves.
Mercy or mistake it might have been, but Haha would finally slip up themselves - with 64 minutes on the clock, Chan Ze Han
would read Miguel Parguiña's intentions for once, and harry Roger Viroux into yielding a corner kick on the weak pass. This would be compounded as Teani would spill the take for Kalle ter Berg
to stick it in, and although the goalie would complain that he had taken an elbow in the back, Barbados referee Carlton Laplace had spotted nothing out of the ordinary.
El Razzak was not having it, however, and he would be first to respond, as he withdrew his tiring front two, for Félix Valdayo and Ursin de Rougemont - the latter of whom might be making his last Haha appearance. Grilled in contrast would wait until the final minute to have Chu Xin Lee
come on for Chan, in a belated roll of the dice. Wu Jinglong
would get a second assist with his excellent cross to Salah Kamel
in injury time, but it was never going to affect the distribution of the points.