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Azkals maul 10-man Nepal, start Asian Cup Qualifiers on right note



The Philippines Azkals’ bid for Asian Cup football got off to a flying start as they emerged as winners, 4-1, against Nepal in the Group H clash of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, held Tuesday evening at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Right from the start, the Azkals were on the front foot, as they showed their eagerness to score an early goal.

The first chance for the Philippines to take the lead came 12 minutes into the game. Javi Patiño saw his header palmed away off the line by defender Bikram Lama, who was given marching orders for the deliberate handball.

Despite warranting a sending off, the Nepal defender may have felt vindicated when his teammate with the gloves, Kiran Kumar Limbu, parried away Phil Younghusband’s take from 12 yards.

The captain sought to make amends instantly, but had to wait for eight minutes to do so. Sustaining momentum and playing with a man advantage, the Azkals claimed another penalty after a brilliant pass from Patiño located Mike Ott. The 21-year-old midfielder then dashed to meet the ball inside the box and lured Ananta Tamang into making a reckless sliding challenge. For the second time in the game, referee Yaqoob Said Abdullah Abdul Baqi pointed to the spot.

Unlike the 13th minute incident, Phil Younghusband picked the other side to not only send Kiran the wrong way but also give the home team the much-deserved lead. Energized by the home crowd, the Azkals knew they needed more goals their way.

“My dad always told me that when you missed one, it’s important you take the next one because otherwise that would play on your mind until the time you do score. A lot went through my mind. It’s always important to get a goal as soon as possible when you do miss a penalty because then you forget the missed one and I was happy I was able to have another chance,” the Loyola striker shared regarding the penalties.

The conversion truly worked wonders, as just a couple minutes after breaking the deadlock, the captain grabbed his second of the night again with the help of Ott. Proving to be a handful down the right wing, the Nürnberg II player lured Kiran off his line before setting up Younghusband, who clinically converted the ball past a swarm of Nepalese defenders near the goal.

As the proverb ‘strike while the iron is hot’ goes, the Azkals got their third just moments after. Iain Ramsay joined the scorers’ list as he reacted the quickest in a scramble inside the box 27 minutes into the game. The Ceres-Negros midfielder tucked the ball into the far side to make it a 3-0 lead against the visiting Central Asian side.

Even with such an advantage, the Azkals remained committed to putting the ball into the back of the net as much as possible. They continued to get chances to score, but no one in a white shirt could muster a finish worthy of beating the now-more compact Nepal defense

Down the other side of the pitch, the Nepalese men began to move more fluidly as they looked to make an unlikely comeback in the game. Playing better towards the end of the half, the visitors did not go to the locker room disappointed, as substitute Bishal Rai pounced on a rare opportunity to pull one back for Nepal.

It proved to be the last kick of the first half, as the Philippines saw their lead reduced to two entering the second half. Talking after the game, Dooley voiced disappointment over how his team had dealt with the situation.

“That was what I was a little bit upset at halftime. Even if you’re leading 3-0, you have to have urgency on our defense. It’s difficult because even if it’s against 10 men, if they have another counter and score in the second half then it’s 3-2 and everyone would be shaking,” the former USA captain elaborated.

Aware that their foes still had enough time to recover, the Azkals tried to replicate their hot start in the first half as soon as the second period started. In the process, they produced two quick chances from Patiño and Carli de Murga. Both attempts, however, didn’t test the busy Kiran in goal.

Still facing a two-goal deficit, Nepal knew that getting the game’s fifth goal would put some pressure on their Southeast Asian counterparts. With 30 more minutes to play, they nearly halved the Azkals lead through Rohit Chand. The Nepal captain swung a decent hit from around 35 yards, but while it had the spin and the power to beat some goalkeepers in Asia, Neil Etheridge managed to read it and gather the ball safely.

It was the closest the Gorkhalis could come to mounting the unlikely comeback, as Patiño’s sublime finish inside the box restored the Azkals’ three-goal cushion in the 74th minute.

Late heroics in goal from Etheridge preserved the three-goal advantage, which could have been increased by Patiño in second half added time. The Henan Jianye striker only had Kiran to beat, so it was a shame that he lost control of the ball at the most crucial moment, saving the 27-year-old Nepalese keeper’s blushes. 4-1 was the score come full time, signalling a blazing start for Dooley’s wards.

The American coach, overall, expressed satisfaction in getting the job done on the night. “I’m very happy with the three points. That’s what we wanted. I’m very happy that we played the ball nicely. There were some good combinations, but we could do better,” the 55-year-old summed up.

As it stands, the Philippines go on top of the Group H standings with three points and a +3 goal difference to show. Two other teams in the group, Yemen and Tajikistan, will see action later today.

The Azkals will then head to Tajikistan next in match day two of the final round of the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers, which will take place on June 13.



Ilocos United takes leave from PFL



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



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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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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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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