3 - 0 Grilled Birds
In Good Humour
With little on the line but pride, the story of what could have been a nailbiter would be reduced to a straight duel between Chan Ze Han
and Félix Valdayo, for the S-League Golden Boot. It would be the Spanish striker to pick up his fourth scoring title outright, as the Birds succumbed 0-3 at Haha Arena, without too much protest.
The inclement weather had not prevented over seventy-seven from turning up, or the hosts from sportingly forming up for the traditional welcome. Hilal Bakhtiar
would take the rare opportunity to reward a couple of his hardworking reserves - Toma Tamiya
would make his first league start for the Birds at 21, taking over the right wing spot vacated by Wu Jinglong, while Manuel Vadalà
began the game between the sticks for the first time since Puh erh, four seasons past. Vadalà would not make much of a case for more opportunities by day's end, however.
Haha for their part had been offering a number of their stars up for the right price, and of these, Giuseppe Ghiringhelli, Sorin-Dan Corbean and Simon Mazlov would make the first eleven, with Előd Scsitovics and Juan Martín Barboza on the bench. Salah Abd El Razzak's arrangement would be for captain Aw Tian Jin to personally take care of Chan Ze Han
in a 5-2-3, which quite suited the weather really. Their long balls were as good as anything Grilled could serve up, and the lack of a midfield didn't matter all too much.
Much of the Birds' normal fight had been lost, moreover, what with them having achieved what they wanted over a long season already. Moey Xin Seng
tried to play link-up between Heng and Egan, but found himself stymied by Vishvesharaiyah Gudivada more often than not. Grilled moreover had left themselves an obvious weakness in Toma on the right, as for all of the youngster's industry, he lacked the awareness to defend against the likes of Corbean. The Romanian winger took full advantage in the eleventh minute, and blazed a route through to supply budding former national U-20 defender Chua Ze Xin, at Vadalà's far post.
That had to go down as a regrettable run-on mistake from the custodian, who had misjudged the amount of room he had. Still, he could make any number of them without appreciable consequences, other than one: allow Félix Valdayo to score. That, sadly, took only seven more minutes, as Sølve Lunde
was caught napping by Valdayo's little bump, concurrent with Aw trying the through ball. The finish was exactly what the home fans were waiting for, and they definitely made themselves heard on it.
El Razzak would take the opportunity to withdraw Mazlov for additional midfield heft in Isaac An, after securing a two-goal lead, likely with an eye towards preserving the Russian for a potential sale. An knew exactly what he had been brought on to do, and he executed his shielding of Haha's backline with zero complaint, and much vigour. It was a testament to his effectiveness, that Grilled had but a single shot on target to show for the half, saved by Giuseppe Teani off Kalle ter Berg
without too much ado.
Haha were not about to change a working formula, and carried on the same way following the break; the continued rain moreover did nothing to discourage this line of thought. The Birds were granted possession, but marginal space to do anything with it, as the hosts were content to squeeze them to the periphery. Kalle remained the only Grilled player to create his own shots, with another fair effort in the 52nd minute, if admittedly largely for want of good passing options.
The Birds were really pressing into Haha's territory about this period, and the outcome might have been different, had Julian Mieser been stricter with Miguel Parguiña on his 56th minute potential leg-breaker on Bilal Mohammad Harun
. It looked intentional, certainly, but the referee would somehow give Parguiña the benefit of the doubt, perhaps due to Bilal just about withdrawing himself from serious injury. This would be the only card of an otherwise even-tempered contest.
The free-kick would give rise to Grilled's best opportunity of the match, as Salah Kamel
surprisingly played it short, despite it being well within range. Chan Ze Han
was the intended target, only to be blocked off, upon which he improvised by nicking it sideways for Bernie Egan
. The Irish forward dug out a wonderful lob in an instant, and but for Teani's incredible form, it would have been a goal.
Well, Grilled were never going to get many more of those chances, as they slogged grimly on, unavoidably looking more miserable by the moment. This turf was hardly amenable to stringing more than a couple of quick passes together, which suited Haha just fine - they were booting it out at every opportunity, by now.
Egan and Moey would settle for booting it in the general direction of goal when they could, but such half-hearted attempts were hardly going to trouble Teani, even on a bad day. One such Moey miss would prove painful eventually, as Haha restarted with a hoof down the right for Valdayo. Lunde wasn't about to let the Number Thirteen fly free again, but he hadn't counted on Parguiña rushing him as well. That was 3-0, as Douglas Carapaica
couldn't quite cover in time.
did at least get a proper stop in against Fatin Belaîdi a bit later, but it was not as if it mattered by now. Bakhtiar would expend his substitutions in the final minutes on Prokop Mottl
, Radovan Jaška
and José Luiz Velho
, entitling them to legitimately share in the club's spoils, with a leaguewinner's medal - a nice gesture indeed.