Put On Hồld
A point wasn't too bad, all considered, but Grilled could have guaranteed their qualification for the next stage, had they just held on against the New York Cosmos. As it was, the Danish fourth division side displayed tremendous grit to stay in a contest that had threatened to run away from them, as the Birds' forwards found their scoring boots.
With the reserves faring badly against Nidaros Seagulls, it had been disappointment upon disappointment piling up on the Birds. Their day had to come eventually, though. Rid of expectations, Gennady Dvorak
and Rinor Isufi
would recover their powers, overpowering the Cosmos' formidable backline right from kickoff.
Grilled might have been spared their poor league position had they played like this from the start, and it seems that it took an impending clearout for their players to focus their minds. Low Aik Jia
, probably the most eager to leave, was nearly unrecognizable from his recent moody self, and he would destroy the inexperienced Christian Mastai early on. It was only through the defence's combined efforts that they managed to escape till the 22nd minute, when Isufi finally smashed one of his many good crosses home.
Cosmos barely had a chance to compose themselves, when they gave up a rather questionable penalty. Its architect was Tian Yonghang
, who has been making up for his physical deterioration, with an expanded bag of tricks. He definitely made the most of Preben Holmgren backing into him on the edge of the six-yard box, and Gennady Dvorak
did the job from the spot.
It would be three-nil just five minutes later, as the Birds laid it on hard. Oblivious to the increasing intensity of rain, Isufi kept up his running up front, and got his break when Emre Umay unwisely tried to take the long route to Niclas Bidstrup. After picking it off, Isufi held off the attentions of John Nicolajsen, before just about finding the near bottom corner.
This rampage was something that Grilled had not enjoyed for some time, and they could hardly be blamed for taking their time to celebrate. At least one man wasn't about to let them have it all their way, however, and it was Hồ Văn Minh.
A naturalised Dane, the veteran Hồ had spent the first half of his career with hometown team Revolution Kickers, before moving to Sweden's Tollarp FC. New York Cosmos would only sign him after he turned 32, but judging from what he would do, he might have a fair few seasons in him yet.
Just as it seemed hopeless for Cosmos, Hồ would take it off the previously-unstoppable Low Aik Jia
in the 39th minute. A probing series of short passes would detect no obvious gaps, and so Hồ created one himself, absorbing Yuta Nakakita
's charge before firing a cannonball past Krystian Rykowski
. He might even have followed up immediately with a second, but was barely a foot off with his driven free-kick.
This was a much-needed wake-up call for the Birds, who responded by tightening up their game. Their dominance on the front foot would continue after the break, and unlike their first penalty, there was no contesting the illegal obstruction by Umay in the 55th minute. No booking was given, but Dvorak repeated his feat, sticking it in at the bottom left again.
With it not looking good, Cosmos' French head coach Cyril Mory ordered his midfielders to stay in an advanced position, figuring that they had little to lose. While there were some teething troubles, with Gunnar Aagren forced to take Hariharan Prabhu
down to forestall a breakaway, this would turn out to be highly beneficial for them.
As has happened only too often, Grilled's downfall would appear when they were pressed; Rykowski was another factor, as the Polish backup goalie should probably have held firm when Novak Kostadinović approached in the 67th, given that Gene Filippone
was making haste. Instead, he elected to rush out, and was duly taken out by a simple chip.
Encouraged, Cosmos kept up with their attacking mindset, and Grilled were slowly drawn into their orbit. A miss from Tian Yonghang
would prove costly, as Aagren would pull them within a goal, with ten minutes remaining. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
tried to be too clever by half with his footwork just outside the box, and would pay the ultimate price.
There could be no more appropriate player to draw Cosmos level than Hồ, of course. Awarding two penalties against them couldn't have made Sarva Patel popular with the New York fans, but he redeemed himself in their eyes somewhat, by calling Yuta Nakakita
's nudge on a speeding Ronny Mousing, three minutes later. It was soft as fouls went, but it was not as if Grilled could have too many complaints.
Still, Grilled were better placed to steal it back, which Hariharan Prabhu
might have done in the very next minute, were it not for John Nicolajsen's quick thinking. That wasn't the end of it, as Tian Yonghang
had a final potshot as injury time drew to a close, but Karol Białasiewicz kept that one out.