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Azkals withstand Tajikistan to claim huge away triumph



In a seven-goal thriller Tuesday evening at the Respublikanskiy Stadion in Dushanbe, the Philippine Azkals survived a determined Tajikistan team when they emerged 4-3 winners in the Group F meeting of the 2019 UAE Asian Cup Qualifiers.

The Azkals were led by Javier Patiño, whose brace was completed by a strike a few minutes before and after halftime. The two-goal display wasn’t the only thing he brought to the table after, he also provided assists to stunning strikes from Phil Younghusband and Daisuke Sato. As for the home team, three different players finding the back of the net made sure that the contest, which looked to have been virtually over at one point, went down the wire.

The opening minutes were a dull affair, as neither generated real danger to bother each other in the first 20 minutes or so. In that period, the hosts looked to have settled more quickly but seemed to play with a shortage of creativity in their attempts to break down the Philippine defense. On the other hand, the Azkals found it difficult to maintain possession, so it may have come as a surprise to many when they were the ones who first rippled the back of the net.

Twenty-four minutes into the duel, Mike Ott came up with a neat finish that swung the ball past Tajikistan goalkeeper Abduazizov Makhkamov. Unfortunately for the team mentored by former US captain Thomas Dooley, the younger of the Ott brothers was offside in the process and even got booked for dissent over the disallowed goal.

Moments later, the Central Asian team, also affectionately known as the Persian Lions, tested Patrick Deyto for the first time. The Filipino goalkeeper playing for Global-Cebu passed the first of many shots on target thrown his way, a moment that proved significant just shortly. In their next attacking wave, the Azkals had a good opportunity to punish their opponents. Fouled around 25 yards away from goal in the 27th minute, Patiño presented Phil a platform to open the scoring.

Ever capable of whipping free kicks from those sorts of areas around the box, the Meralco-Manila marquee man weaved his magic in Dushanbe by looping it deceptively above everyone before sinking magnificently past the Kyrgyz club FC Alay keeper. It marked the 46th time that the Philippines’ record goalscorer found the back of the net.

Startled, the Tajiks lost poise and this encouraged the Azkals on the attack. After knocking on the door quite haphazardly, the Filipinos found what they were looking for, four minutes before the break. It was Patiño who formally stamped his name on the score sheet that time, as the 29-year-old forward benefited from both ugly Tajikistan defending and a clinical Mike Ott pass to double the Philippines’ lead.

And if Patiño’s first goal made it a difficult evening for the Persian Lions, the Azkals’ number 20 made it a whole lot tougher three minutes into the second half. Again a beneficiary of Mike Ott’s cunning vision, Patiño calmly rounded past Makhkamov before easily sliding the ball for a 3-0 lead to the Philippines.

Pegged as the favorites in the encounter, the Tajiks knew that another defeat would spell danger to their bid to qualify for UAE 2019. Accepting the challenge given to them by their Filipino counterparts, the hosts needed a goal from somewhere and fast, in order to salvage at least a point out of their first home game in the final round of qualifying.

Eventually, pressure yielded a glorious chance to the Persian Lions after Amani Aguinaldo committed a foul inside the penalty area. Bulgaria-based midfielder Parvizdzhon Umarbaev of Lokomotiv Plovdiv stepped up to take the spot kick which he did not waste, denying Deyto a clean sheet, at the very least.

Picking up momentum, the energized Tajikistan squad — with the backing of rabid home support — staggeringly reduced the deficit to just a single goal in the 61st minute — just four minutes after pulling a goal back. A lousy back pass from Junior Muñoz triggered the instincts of Istiklol’s Dilshod Vasiev. The forward was in no mood to spurn the chance as his finish put everyone in the stadium on their feet.

At that point, the Filipinos looked vulnerable to conceding another goal, as the men in red continued to pummel the white shirts midway through the second period. Fortune seemed to be the only thing that prevented the home team from completing a comeback when Deyto’s blushes were spared by the goalpost in the 70th minute.

Under siege, the Azkals remained sharp whenever they had the chance to attack, and despite Patiño unable to complete his hat trick when he didn’t make meaningful contact with a ball threaded by Iain Ramsay, the clever forward had the awareness to locate Sato. The CSMS fullback, after being given enough room, decided to fire a screamer from just outside the box. Fortune favors the brave indeed, as the former Global-Cebu mainstay smashed it past the hapless Tajik custodian.

It looked the best of the bunch and was a fitting way to end a captivating match, but Istiklol’s Manuchekhr Dzhalilov had other ideas. His 90th minute strike made the home crowd believe that they would at least save a point at home, something that they eventually failed to do, as the four additional minutes on the clock was not enough to rescue a result in their backyard.

By beating Tajikistan, the Azkals are now sitting comfortably on top of Group F with six maximum points in the bag.

Earlier, a goalless draw between Nepal and Yemen meant that the Filipinos are two points ahead of their next opposition. Nepal, placed in third, have a slender one-point advantage over Tajikistan, whom they will host in the next round. The matches are scheduled to be played on September 5.



Bienvenido Marañon, Iain Ramsay strike as Ceres knocks out Kaya to reach Finals



Photo from Ceres Media

It is but fitting to see the 2017 Philippines Football League final contested by one of region’s top teams in Ceres-Negros Football Club.

Following a 1-0 away win against Kaya-Makati last week at the University of Makati field, the Busmen were just 90 minutes away from competing in the first PFL final. And they did so after picking up a 2-1 win in the second leg of the semifinals, Saturday evening at Panaad Stadium.

Bienvenido Marañon provided Ceres with a dream start when he headed Arnie Pasinabo’s cross into goal in the 30th minute to give the home side’s fans something to cheer about.

Marañon’s header not only handed Ceres first blood in the game, 1-0 — it also gave a valuable 2-0 lead on aggregate.

But Kaya refused to give up. Down 0-1 after the first leg, Noel Marcaida’s men knew they had to score an away goal to give themselves a fighting chance of making it to the finals.

The away side’s prayers were answered two minutes before halftime. Miguel Tanton saw his free kick parried away by Ceres goalie Roland Muller, only for the latter to watch as Antonio Ugarte rebounded the ball towards the back of the net.

Ceres and Kaya drew 1-1 at the break, which meant both clubs had much to play for in the next 45 minutes.

The two clubs had multiple opportunities to get that all-important second goal after the break and it was Negros who found a way to break the stalemate thanks to clever individual skill.

Iain Ramsay took advantage of some faulty Kaya defending when he intercepted the ball and looped over Kaya goalie Ref Cuaresma, who could only watch at that moment in the 78th minute.

Kaya failed to find another goal in them to give themselves hope.

Ceres’ 2-1 victory gave them a 3-1 aggregate win over Kaya. The win allows Risto Vidakovic’s men to advance to the PFL finals, where they will meet Visayas neighbors Global Cebu for the right to be crowned champions on December 16 .

Qualification to the 2018 AFC Cup has also been assured for Ceres thanks to this victory, while participation in the 2018 AFC Champions League is also possible if the Bacolod club wins the championship.

On the other hand, Kaya will face Metro Manila rivals Manila Meralco for the third place playoff, also on December 16. Possible qualification for the 2018 AFC Cup is at stake for the winner.

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Rufo Sanchez, Global eliminate Meralco, set up showdown with Ceres



Eliminated in the 2017 AFC Cup knockout round and lost in the recently concluded 2017 Singapore Cup final, one can be forgiven for thinking that Global Cebu just doesn’t have any gas left in its tank after so many heartbreaks this year.

Come the end of a grueling second leg contest against Meralco Manila, Global showed a champion’s heart to seal a 1-1 draw tonight at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

The draw was enough to see Cebu through to the 2017 Philippines Football League finals as Akbar Nawas’ men prevailed 2-1 last week.

Rufo Sanchez’s 85th minute goal proved to be the moment which brought Global to the promised land.

“I think it was a very hard fought match,” commented Nawas. “Yes we conceded an early goal but that didn’t mean we had to panic. I knew with this team we could always get a goal back.”

Global endured the worst possible start it could have envisioned in the game. Meralco got he goal it needed to calm its nerves after just two minutes of play when the Sparks’ pressing forced Global into its own half which led to Curt Dizon opening the scoring.

From then on, Meralco sought to protect its lead which would have guaranteed them a place in the finals thanks to the away goals rule.

Meralco opted to allow Global to attack in the hopes of springing a counterattack while the latter was comfortable with possession. Cebu could have leveled the game at the 8th minute but Wesley Dos Santos’ header was ruled out due to offside.

The Cebu club kept on pounding on Meralco’s door and got another chance to get that equalizer when Pika Minegishi’s freekick found its way to Rufo whose header hit the crossbar.

Meralco carried a precarious one-goal edge at halftime as Global looked the more likely to score the inevitable second goal in the contest.

A similar tale followed upon the game’s resumption. Meralco as good as parked the but and left itself susceptible for a Global onslaught. Minegishi thought he got Global’s leveler only for Meralco defender Joaquin Cañas to clear the ball at the goalline.

Cebu inched closer to the goal. Meralco goalie Jun Badelic turned away a Darryl Roberts freekick to keep the scores as it was. Come the 85th minute, Global finally got the goal it deserved.

Rufo capitalized on a Meralco misclearance to put the ball past Badelic amd send everything into bedlam. Global players were relieved and in a celebratory mood while the Sparks looked as if they didn’t have any ideas left to force extra time.

Global ended up 1-0 victors and 3-2 winners in aggregate. The Dan Palami-owned club not only secured itself a ticket in for the December 16 final against Ceres Negros, it also booked a seat for the 2018 AFC Champions League or 2018 AFC Cup at the very least.

On the other hand, Meralco will also play next week on December 16 for their third place playoff match against rivals Kaya Makati. The winner of that match could secure possible participation in the 2018 AFC Cup.

“This is all credit to the players and what we’ve trained last week and that information that we’ve given them. But take nothing away from Rufo’s goal and the way the players fought,” concluded Nawas.

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Philippines grouped with China, Thailand in 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup



There is no such thing as an easy road towards glory

The Philippine Women’s National Football Team qualified for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup earlier this year in Tajikistan, excitement arose as to who the Filipinas will face in the big dance this April 6 to 20, 2018 in Jordan.

After a draw was held at the King Hussein bin Talal Convention Center in Jordan, the Philippines will now face host nation Jordan, the People’s Republic of China and regional neighbors Thailand.

Both China and Thailand competed in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup that was held in Canada. China reached the quarterfinals stage while Thailand was eliminated at the group stage. China and Thailand are ranked 13 and 29 respectively in the latest FIFA Women’s World Rankings.

Thailand and the Philippines last faced off in the 2017 SEA Games held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which the Thais won 3-1.

On the other hand, Jordan is ranked 50 in the current rankings. The last time the Philippines and Jordan faced each other was April 12, 2017 in the Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers where the latter enjoyed a a comfortable 1-5 victory.

All things considered, this is a kind draw as the other group includes South Korea, Australia, Vietnam and Japan.

The target for the Filipinas would undoubtedly be to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup that will be held in France. There are five slots available in this tournament and a fifth place finish will be enough for the Philippines to book a ticket.

The team will be handled by American coach Richard Boon who is the squad’s first male coach since 2013. The Filipinas’ participation in the upcoming tourney will also be the country’s first entry since the 2003 edition.

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Young Philippines squad loses twice in Chinese Taipei tourney



A national selection mostly composed of UAAP and Philippines Football League players took to the international stage last December 1 to 5 in Chinese Taipei to compete in the Chinese Taipei Football Association International Tournament.

Davao Aguilas mentor Marlon Maro was the designated head coach, while the team was managed by the Mindanao club’s owner Jefferson Cheng.

Stallion Laguna and Davao were the PFL clubs who released players for the team. Laguna sent over Nathanael Alquiros, Fitch Arboleda, Ruben Doctora Jr., Yannick Tuason, and Reynald Villareal. On the other hand, the bulk of the team came from Davao.

The Davao players were Junell Bautista, Jaime Cheng, Justin Cheng, Reymart Cubon, Dylan De Bruycker, Angel Guirado, James Hall, Nick O’Donnell, Simone Rota, James Younghusband, and Phil Younghusband.

Current UAAP stars in the lineup include Julian Clarino, Christian Lapas, and Kintaro Miyagi of the University of the Philippines; Javier Gayoso of the Ateneo de Manila University; and Ray Joyel of the Far Eastern University.

Kaya Makati’s Adam Tull and Thailand League 2 side Angthong United’s Mike Ott rounded up the members of Maro’s team.

All games were held at the Municipal Stadium in Taipei.

Maro’s men were off to a fine start to the competition last December 1 when they defeated Laos 3-1. Phil Younghusband took advantage of an assist from his brother James to open the scoring in the 35th minute.

Come the second half, Guirado overpowered the opposition defense to double the Azkals’ edge, while Miyagi sealed the win afterwards late in the period. With the Philippines’ win all but clinched, Laos managed to score a consolation goal in stoppage time.

Two days later came a rude awakening for the team. Up against host nation Chinese Taipei, the Philippines folded 0-3 after 90 minutes.

Headers from forward Mao Li in the 38th and 62nd minutes powered Chinese Taipei to a commanding two-goal cushion against the Philippines. The Filipinos failed to retaliate and were left to succumb to another header, this time from Ting-Yang Chen, rounded up the 0-3 loss.

The Filipinos’ last day in the competition was on December 5 against East Timor. The fixture was seen as an opportunity for the Filipinos to bounce back.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan. The Filipinos failed to score for the second straight game, and were left to concede a sucker punch late in the game when Da Silva Garcia Silverio Da Resurecio eluded the Philippines’ defense shot past Joyel for the game’s only goal.

The Philippines ended up losing 0-1 to East Timor, in what was arguably its most embarrassing result in this competition.

Ultimately, the team won one game and lost twice in this pocket tournament. It just goes to show that there is still so much to be done in order to beef up talent pools, whether for the main Azkals squad or youth teams.

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