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Football

Azkals leave Nepal with qualification still hanging in balance

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The Philippine Azkals went to Nepal in search of a win that would seal their place in the tournament proper of the of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Unfortunately, they were left frustrated after 90 minutes of thrilling football, as they couldn’t break down a sturdy Nepal defense that did well to earn a goalless draw at the ANFA Complex in Kathmandu, Nepal.

It took a while for the Azkals to settle into the game, as the hosts did a good job containing the visiting team within the first 20 minutes. With nothing but pride to play for, Nepal didn’t look like the team currently sitting at the bottom of Group F. They maintained good shape defensively, which prevented the Filipinos from netting an early goal. In fact, the home side looked more dangerous with the ball. Fortunately, Neil Etheridge didn’t need to do much on between the sticks.

Gradually, the Azkals began to find their feet in Nepalese soil. Twenty-one minutes into game, the Philippines registered their first chance. Iain Ramsay located his club teammate Carli de Murga just inside the box. The Ceres defender got his head to the ball, but his effort sailed over the frame of the goal. It did not open the scoring, but it provided a much-needed boost for the Azkals frontline.

Just moments after the first chance, Mike Ott tested his luck from range. While it was off-target, the attempt had Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong scampering for the ball that just ended a few feet wide off the far post.

More opportunities arrived for the Azkals as the game got going. However, they weren’t able to maximize the quantity of attempts on goal. In the 25th minute, Phil Younghusband scuffed a shot inside the 18-yard box. The Davao Aguilas star man then took a free kick a few minutes later, which was nodded over by his club mate Simone Rota.

Out of all the shots created in the first half, nothing came closer than Ott’s 35th minute effort. Positioned well to slot the ball in off a parried Curt Dizon attempt, the Ang Thong United midfielder didn’t have the best of touches as he rushed the effort with a first time strike. It did not have enough power nor accuracy to bother Kiran Kumar Lumbu, who thankfully collected the ball on the goalmouth.

The hosts regained composure after that, frustrating the Azkals, who were eager to end the half ahead by at least a goal. The first half ended goalless, arguably leaving Nepal as the more satisfied of the two squads.

Unhappy with how the first half turned out, the team in white started the second half with much more intensity. Their aggressive approach pushed the home team deeper into their half. It rewarded them with set pieces but their profligacy did not allow them to capitalize on those opportunities.

With a high line in place, the Azkals were running the risk of getting caught on the break. They nearly gave away a gilt-edged chance approaching the hour mark when Etheridge took too long on the ball and was prompted to concede an unwarranted corner. Thankfully for him, the opportunity led to nothing.

Nepal may have not scored from that moment, but their self-confidence grew afterwards. While they did not create a clear-cut chance, they kept the Azkals’ defense on their toes. De Murga needed to intervene to break up a potential goal-scoring opportunity before Etheridge made a routine save off a long range shot.

The Azkals did not stay on the back foot for too long, creating another chance in pursuit of a breakthrough goal. Rota’s shot was palmed away by Kumar Lumbu, but only as far as the unmarked Younghusband inside the box. He then gladly saw the Philippine record goalscorer’s attempt drift harmlessly wide.

Nepal dodged a bullet right there, but knew that it wouldn’t be the last time they faced danger in the match. In the 70th minute, Ott seemingly had enough time to finish a chance inside the box. Unlike in the first half, however, he opted to take his time with the ball perhaps just long enough for the Nepal defense to recover.

Towards the closing stages of the match, the Azkals were in the ascendancy. They piled the pressure onto the Nepal defense, which looked equipped to deal with it. The barrage even came at a time when Kumar Lumbu had to come off due to a sustained injury. Bikesh Kuthu came on as a competent deputy to the man who had kept Nepal in the affair.

Credit to Nepal, they did not simply sit back and wait for the Azkals to attack. Whenever they got the ball, they tried to cause problems with quick passing in midfield. This nearly paid off when the hosts caught the visitors against the run of play. Junior Muñoz spared the Azkals’ blushes after he blocked a glorious attempt in the 76th minute.

Surviving the abrupt attack, the Azkals resumed their dominant spell and produced two huge chances off a set piece in the 84th minute. From a corner, Daisuke Sato was inches away from giving the Filipinos the lead. His headed effort was creeping in only to be cleared out just before it breached the goal line. A secondary cross was floated back into the Nepal box, but Ott did not find the target with his headed attempt.

Time eventually ran out, but not without a last-gasp opportunity to steal a historic result. In the fourth and last minute of added time, Etheridge drilled a great free kick from the halfway line. De Murga got on the end of it and headed it towards goal and came a tad close, only to be denied by the woodwork. Sato went for the rebound and saw his attempt cleared, but it wouldn’t have counted anyway as he was flagged for offside.

After the ensuing free kick was taken, the referee signaled the end of the match.

The result still keeps the Philippines away from booking a berth in the 2019 Asian Cup. However, they only need to avoid a defeat in the final group game at home against Tajikistan. The said match will take place on the March 27, 2018, at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.

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Football

Ilocos United takes leave from PFL

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Another one bites the dust

After months of speculation, Ilocos United has formally announced their absence from the Philippines Football League for the 2018 season.

A statement signed by Ilocos Chief Executive Officer Tony Lazaro and posted on the club’s Facebook page broke the big news.

“Unfortunately, after months of negotiation, efforts to attract a new naming sponsor for the Team were unsuccessful,” the statement opened. “Consequently, it has become financially prohibitive to continue participation in the PFL.

“Primarily, the lack of broadcasting exposure in 2017 created an apprehension in the corporate community, cascading into a series of afflictions that has ultimately led to our withdrawal from the competition.”

Ilocos finished last during the inaugural season, tallying 1 win, 6 draws, and 21 losses with a -49 goal differential.

Still, Ilocos gave their thanks to those who supported the club during the inaugural PFL season.

“We are cautiously optimistic of a potential return to the PFL for the 2019 season, whereby secured broadcasting exposure will hopefully lead to higher confidence from potential sponsorship partners.”

While their PFL operations will fold for the time being, Ilocos will continue the grassroots programs they have started within the area. ¨In the meantime, the foundation of football development we helped to build in Ilocos will continue, including grassroots initiatives at local schools, women’s futsal, Special Olympics, and, of course, the IUFC Academy.¨

The latest development will be another big blow for the young league. Meralco Manila pulled out of the competition beforehand, and now Ilocos´ absence leaves only six teams in the competition.

Now more than ever, something needs to be done by the PFL or even the Philippine Football Federation to ensure the feasibility of the clubs and the league itself for years to come.

Football is a hard sport to build in the Philippines despite its resurgence since 2010. There are limited corporate boosters for the sport which is in dire need of a financial push to sustain its growth.

Ilocos´ leave and Meralco´s folding now forces local football´s stakeholders to take a step back and examine the next moves to build the sport.

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Jake Vicen performs under pressure as Blazers end eight-year title drought

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For the second straight match, the championship showdown between the College of Saint Benilde Blazers and the Arellano University Chiefs reached a showdown from the penalty spot. And once more, goalkeeper Jake Vicen came up big.

The third-year custodian denied one of Arellano’s prolific scorers, Roberto Corsame, in the shootout and sealed the title after eight long years, 3-2, penalties, Wednesday evening at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The Blazers made their intentions clear from the get-go, as they repeatedly pierced through the defense of the Chiefs.

Nonetheless, in the 38th minute, the white-shirts clinched the goal they deserved. The Blazers pushed forward, and almost got a call in their favor. The referees, however, played advantage, and fortunately Benilde held on to the play.

Miguel Artillera found himself unmarked on the right flank and easily blasted the ball past opposing keeper Jericho Desalisa.

The Marlon Maro-mentored side continued to play aggressively in the following period, and almost plucked a second goal. This time, however, the Chiefs’ backline — led by eventual Best Defender Patrick Bernarte — held on.

Such a stand was rewarded by their attacking force minutes later, and, as expected, the equalizer came from the counterattack.

Corsame received a pass from the middle and defeated two defenders, and seeing Vicen off his line, sent the ball into the onion bag in the 49th minute.

Both sides tried to break the deadlock, but fatigue slowly crept up in the dying minutes of the second period and the whole of extra time, setting up another thrilling finish in the shootout.

Much like in Game 2, the two keepers came up big, as Desalisa and Vicen denied their second kickers a clear shot. Arellano went on to miss another shot, and it was then up to the Blazers to seal the deal.

Dean Ebarle stepped up and calmly slotted the ball into the goal for the lead at 3-2. Afterwards, Corsame faced Vicen, but this time, the Cebuano keeper would not be denied. The latter went to his strong side, and, fortunately, guessed right for the huge save, as pandemonium erupted from the Benilde crowd and squad.

The Finals series hero and season Best Goalkeeper Vicen was pleased that the new champions had carved out the historic win despite early adversity. “Big loss ‘yun, si Val [Calvo], kasi may magagawa talaga siya kung nakalaro namin,” he said of losing their former captain.

Nonetheless, the squad stayed focused on getting it done this year.

“Binuhos lang namin every minute sa training. Luckily, hard work paid off,” declared Vicen.

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Composed Ceres-Negros expels Shan United in shootout victory

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Photo from the-AFC.com

2017 AFC ASEAN Zone Champions Ceres-Negros banked on their poise and composure from the spot as they knocked out Myanmar’s Shan United via a 4-3 penalty shootout (1-1 after extra time) triumph, Tuesday evening at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.

The Negrenses punched their ticket to Brisbane, Australia after emerging the better spotkick takers. Four Busmen were on target, while two of their Shan Warriors counterparts fluffed their lines.

The two domestic champions were inseparable after 120 minutes, with the hosts holding their own against the Philippine champions. Ceres-Negros looked the more dominant of the two teams. However, they couldn’t make the advantage count where it mattered, as they failed to breach the sturdy Shan United defense inside the first two regulation halves.

The visitors were visibly more comfortable in the first half, but with the scores staying level at the break, the less-fancied Myanmar champions eventually found their footing in the encounter. While there were several half-chances from either side to open the scoring, both defenses remained defiant en route to unwanted extra time.

“It was a tough game. We weren’t ready to play 120 minutes because we only had four training sessions before the game but everytime we wear this jersey, we represent Ceres, we represent Bacolod, we represent the Philippines, so we have to give our best,” Ceres’ defender Carli de Murga elaborated to the Inquirer after the match. The Asian Football season has yet to start, and with both teams not too busy with pre-season preparations, rust and fatigue in a demanding affair were evident.

Come extra time, Ceres-Negros took the initiative when Stephan Schröck’s deflected effort went past the helpless Thiha Si Thu just three minutes into the first half.

Nonetheless, the hosts refused to go down without a fight, and their resilience was rewarded later in the opening half. Substitute Patrick Asare found the back of the net to restore parity in Yangon.

Another 15 minutes of goalless action took place in the second half as both teams looked more cautious, perhaps with the collective aim of avoiding a costly error or two. Among all the chances, Schröck’s in the 114th minute may have proved to be the closest to changing the scores, as his attempt shaved the post.

Shan United took to the spot first, where Asare made his penalty attempt count. Nay Lin Tun also made his, but not before teammate Chizoba smashed his attempt over Toni Doblas’ goal.

While the hosts squandered a shot, the visitors remained calm in front of a hostile Myanmar crowd. De Murga, Schröck and Mike Ott nailed their turns, with Marañon also not missing a vital kick from 12 yards.

It set up William Biassi Nyakwe, the man credited with the own goal when he deflected Schröck’s opener, with the chance to prolong his team’s campaign in the AFC Champions League. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t atone for his earlier mistake, as his attempt soared high and wide — much to the delight of the visiting team from Bacolod, the Philippines.

The reward for Ceres-Negros is a trip to Queensland, Australia, where they will seek to do one better than compatriots Global-Cebu. The 2016 Philippine champions also played against the Brisbane Roar, who dealt them a staggering 6-0 hammering this time last year. The match will be held at the Suncorp Stadium on January 23.

As for Shan United, a spot in the AFC Cup Group Stage awaits them and they may not have seen the last of Ceres-Negros just yet. If the Negrenses lose to either Brisbane Roar or Tianjin Quanjian, they will be reacquainted with the Burmese champions in Group F.

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Brazilian football legend Zico to visit Manila

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Contributed photos

One of the best to ever play the Beautiful Game is coming to the Philippines. Zico, who electrified the footballing world in the ’70s and ’80s, is slated to visit Manila on the weekend of January 27.

The Brazilian, whose real name is Arthur Antunes Coimbra, is considered one of the best footballers in the world during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Zico starred for the Brazilian national team, scoring 48 goals in 71 appearances for the Selecao. In 1999, the attacking midfielder came 8th in the FIFA Player of the Century grand jury vote, and in 2004 was named in FIFA’s list of the world’s greatest living players.

Zico played for legendary Brazilian club Flamengo and also for the Italian Serie A team Udinese. He finished his playing career suiting up for Kashima Antlers in the J-League, the top tier of Japanese football, leading them to an unlikely runner-up finish.

The 64-year-old also had a successful managerial career, leading Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Greek team Olympiacos, and CSKA Moscow to titles. Zico was also in charge of the Japanese national team when they won the AFC Asian Cup in 2004. Because of that accomplishment, Zico is one of the most beloved football figures in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Seven Seas Properties, a company that promotes Philippine real estate and Philippine stocks in the Japanese market, is bringing the football icon here.

“We are delighted to welcome Zico to the Philippines. I’m sure he will give a big boost to the growing football scene here,” says Seven Seas Properties President Yukihiro Nishimura.

Zico will attend a CSR event with young footballers from underprivileged communities on Saturday, January 27. The following day, Sunday January 28, he will lead a football clinic for elite young players and coaches in the McKinley Hill stadium in Taguig. Football fans and media are welcome to watch this event, which kicks off at 2:00 pm. Admission is free.

Zico in Manila is also made possible by Otsuka – Solar Philippines, Inter Sports Partners, AgriNurture, and Primex.

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