Never In Doubt
Grilled Birds have been involved in many nail-biting cup finals over the years, the pick of which was probably their latest Singapore Cup victory against Bot Team FC. Well, this wasn't one of them, as the Birds absolutely wrecked Ah Beng FC after twenty minutes of jostling, to prevail 9-1 - by far their largest winning margin in a national cup final ever.
Now, this was not to say that such was entirely unexpected, with the Birds having beaten Ah Beng FC 7-1 en route to their fourth Singapore Cup, just two seasons ago. That was also their only prior meeting, with about half of the Ah Bengs' lineup having changed since then. The most prominent introduction was German forward Hugo Burgau, who had been left entirely out of that previous meeting. Unfortunately, as the scoreline suggested, their frontline was the least of their worries.
With longtime Swiss midfielder Antoine Spiess newly at the helm, the Ah Bengs had embarked on a cup run for the ages, with their 3-0 elimination of Marina Sailors arguably the high point of their entire history thus far. That, however, had depended on an ridiculous collection of misses from an overwhelming Sailors side for the first half of the match, a situation that many analysts judged unlikely to be repeated with the Birds. They proved entirely correct.
Grilled for their part could afford to leave both Kalki Parvathaneni
and Heng Dong Chu
on the bench, unlike their previous fifth round fixture, with Wu Jinglong
and Teo Chuan Yong
preferred for their reliability instead. Kalle ter Berg
would be shifted to the vacated left wing, with Jānis Salmiņš
starting his first final for the club. The Latvian goalkeeper might well have stayed in bed, so miserly were his teammates with the ball overall, and a hearty initial struggle would gradually but irrevocably lean towards the side in green.
Ah Beng FC were rightly fired up for their biggest game ever, but mere enthusiasm was hardly about to be sufficient, not when set against one of the most-practised big game hunters in the land. Having reached the last two Singapore Cup finals, and captured an S-League title recently into the bargain, it would take plenty to shake Grilled - or at any rate, more than what their opponents possessed.
Much lay on the slender shoulders of 23 year-old Finnish midfielder Kasperi Ranta, and while he did the best he could, the Birds were soon tearing into the Ah Beng lines from all directions; while Grilled stayed largely true to their core philosophy, they were hardly unwilling to exploit width when the opportunity presented itself, as Wu Jinglong
did in the 22nd minute. A serial winner with Sarcastic Fringeheads, the Chinese veteran had pronounced himself eager to garner more honours with the Birds, and he did his part with a stylish assist all the way across for Ter Berg.
The scoring Dutchman would embrace his supplier with unfeigned appreciation, but this event would soon be swept away by the Birds' following ruthlessness. Ah Beng FC were holding out hopes of a quick equalizer right from the kick-off, but instead had to chase Vikram Mudaliar
as he beat the most direct path to their goal, after a smart interception. Carl Ludwig Hummer had little choice but to sweep man and ball, and though fortunate to escape a booking, there was no escaping reprisal, as Bhavya Panigrahi
buried the penalty by his right goalpost.
It was all downhill, and fast, for Ah Beng FC after that. Their belief evidently shredded, they would concede thrice more in short order, with Bilal Mohammad Harun
running onto a delightful little layoff from Chan Ze Han
. Hummer was thoroughly shaken as he barely reacted to a speculative Panigrahi strike almost directly at him next, and the Birds would be 5-0 up by the 34th minute, as Moey Xin Seng
personally stuck the dagger after a dribble at Uldis Liniņš that might well have been construed as disrespectful.
In any case, there was certainly no mystery left in this contest, and it only remained to be seen if Grilled Birds would reach ten, at the going rate. Well, Ah Beng FC would pull themselves together - if barely - for the remainder of the half, with Cuban battler Fidel Echenique fighting for all he was worth, for one. Still, recognition of defeat was writ large on the faces of his comrades, with it being little more than residual pride that kept them ticking.
Half-time would only douse their zeal, which led to Chu Xin Lee
getting on the scoresheet barely a minute after coming on for Wu Jinglong
. Grilled could afford to entertain by now, and they had Panigrahi and Bilal make dummy runs over the ball, before Kalle ter Berg
dug the free-kick short to Bernie Egan
, who had made a late run. The Irish forward was clearly intending to shoot, but was flexible enough to play it on for Chu once he got closed down.
The torture could only continue for the Ah Bengs, and there was a feeling that they were simply going through the motions at times. In contrast, there was a jolliness about the Grilled players as they buzzed about in an effort to get their name in lights, secure in the knowledge that they would be collecting a winner's medal regardless. Vikram Mudaliar
was next in line to put it in the net, as he found the target with his cracker of a strike in the 56th.
All considered, the game remained relatively tame, and the most ill-tempered moment would probably be Jozef Haluško's mean-spirited lashing out at Teo Chuan Yong
from the ground after losing out on a challenge, for which the Slovak winger was rightly carded. It would turn out to be an extremely meaningful day for Bhavya Panigrahi
, as the 32 year-old defender secured the first hat-trick of his career from the spot, following an inadvertent ball to hand.
It would almost be cruel were Ah Beng FC to come out of this goalless, and perhaps only Jānis Salmiņš
would be disappointed when Hugo Burgau trapped a through pass elegantly in the 77th minute, before hitting it between Gilbert Webb
's legs to the far corner. Kalki Parvathaneni
would come on for Teo Chuan Yong
right as Bernie Egan
was booked for roughing Joseph Hartmann up unnecessarily, and Egan himself would leave for Mateja Jeftić
, as injury time approached. The four minutes were enough for Chu Xin Lee
to flick a corner on to Webb, and it was perhaps fitting than Chan Ze Han
closed the day off with a superb take from the edge of the penalty area.