At An End
It Had To Come
Grilled Birds' record 22-match undefeated run would finally end at the hands of Spain's Dandy de Tazmania 2, as the former world champions' wealth of experience on this stage carried them through. Tazmania would be able to edge midfield possession despite their signature ultra-low block, and their unshakable conviction in their approach to the game would make all the difference.
Algeria's Cimetière Arena would play host to this international club fixture, and there would be over 106,000 paying attendees today, about evenly-split between the clubs. Tazmania would hardly bear an aura of invincibility, having just lost 2-4 to Primera rivals los melenas c.f. on Sunday. Hilal Bakhtiar
would profess to have studied the latter's approach closely, and concluded that it was not all that different from the Birds' natural style. Problem was, los melenas c.f. were probably just that much better at it.
Grilled would consider themselves in it with a shot, however, even missing midfielder Teo Chuan Yong
, who had been a shoo-in for his Hattrick Masters debut before his hamstring injury against Crypto Moon. Teo would distressingly fail his late fitness test, which had Chu Xin Lee
and Kalle ter Berg
flank Bilal Mohammad Harun
in the middle. Notably, Bilal had been identified as Grilled's main threat at the fulcrum by Tazmania head coach Indrek Vindi, from how Ignacio Boscán was deployed to man-mark him tightly. On hindsight, Vindi's insight was entirely correct.
There were few doubts about how this would play out, with Robbie Football Club having tried a similar tack against Grilled - which had to be worrying, in fact. Tazmania could notably afford to leave their new star midfielders Oleg Tikhonov and Bogdan Czyszczoń both out of this one, despite the pair having arrived from Red-White Ptz in the off-season for a combined S$24 million. Instead, they would keep faith with their quintet of Venezuelan internationals in midfield, an arrangement that has allowed them to build a cohesion seldom seen at both club and country level.
That the Birds could contest evenly with such a collection for long stretches was a feat in itself, and Gregorio Materán's speculative try from distance in the ninth minute would ultimately not require Jānis Salmiņš
' intervention. Grilled stuck to their guns despite little enough reward, at least until a rare lapse by the Tazmania backline in the 22nd minute, as they allowed Vikram Mudaliar
's improvised pass behind them. Moey Xin Seng
needed no second invitation, and dived in to scuff it past Cameroon national goalie Aurélien Evina.
That would be a second Masters goal for the Grilled captain, after he had opened against GLADIATORS_FC two seasons ago, but the Birds would unfortunately go against their original plan in playing more conservatively. Mudaliar would force a fingertip save from Evina in the 33rd minute, but overall this probably remained a mistake, as Tazmania seemed rather more comfortable on the ball without being constantly pressed into.
Their equalizer would come in the 38th minute, after a relatively long spell of possession around the halfway line, as the Venezuelans shifted it from one wing to another with impunity. Harry Espinoza sought to go around Kalki Parvathaneni
on the right, only to pull it at the last moment, to a Boscán that had abandoned Bilal for once. The defender was none the worse for wear at all from his tireless tracking duties, but Salmiņš should seriously have done better against the strike - powerful as it was - for how close it came.
They all count, unfortunately for Grilled, and the match would be effectively reset for the second half. The half-time lecture had evidently persuaded them to take the initiative again, but their best chance of winning would turn out to be gone, as Tazmania came out with the superior adjustments. The Primera club would be able to bring increasingly more of their attackers into good positions, but eventually take the lead through Espinoza outrunning Mateja Jeftić
the old-fashioned way, before clipping it over Salmiņš.
That was 2-1 to Tazmania in the 57th minute, and they were clearly the more dangerous side by this stage. José Ballestero would be teed up for an open shot on the edge of the box in the 64th, and Salmiņš was very fortunate that he didn't manage to keep it on target. Chan Ze Han
, ever the fighter, heroically put himself through after fooling Joel Yépez 70 minutes in, but Aurélien Evina was unfortunately expecting just that trick.
Ballestero and Chan would be the key drivers for their respective teams now, with the Venezuelan icon eventually coming up tops. A 74th minute stormer from Ballestero would be well-blocked by Salmiņš, but all of Chan's ceaseless efforts to create a second goal for Grilled, would be anticipated by the Tazmanian defensive unit. The closest he came would be with his blind flick towards Kalle ter Berg
in the 83rd, but even that would be read by Gregorio Materán.
The failed pass would turn into one of the sharp counters that Tazmania was known for, and Sølve Lunde
could do little more than tie Joel Yépez up some thirty metres out, and avoid giving up a free-kick within normal range. That was probably the best solution available for the Norwegian, all the more as he avoided a card somehow, but Tazmania would score off it anyway. Regular taker Elano Cebericha bounced it to Ballestero, who made up for his earlier misses with an absolutely unstoppable rocket to the top left.
There didn't seem any way that Grilled could make up two goals in the six minutes and change remaining, but this was not for want of trying. Their barrage was intense enough that Joel Yépez would have to give up a yellow card in taking Mudaliar out right before he entered the penalty area in the 88th minute, but Mateja Jeftić
's free-kick that followed was always rising. Heng Dong Chu
and Bernie Egan
would then go on, but more as a concession, than in any real hope of turning the match around.