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Bahrain match a stern test of Azkals’ ambitions

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After containing group leaders North Korea last Thursday, the Philippines men’s national football team braces for their most important challenge so far in the joint 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. Tomorrow evening, they will go up against Bahrain, a team ranked one spot below them in Group H.

Bahrain have played two qualifying games at home so far with poor results. They have yet to score a single goal while giving away five goals against North Korea and Uzbekistan. But for Bahrain, those opponents will seem superior to their next visitors, who valiantly claimed a point in Pyongyang just days before. Confidence may be dwindling in the Bahraini camp, but they might think they have a good chance of getting their qualification run back on track with a home win against the Azkals. Bahrain, of course, had won against the Azkals 2-1 in a friendly match in March this year.

A big factor in that match was Bahrain’s skillful execution of set pieces. Both of their goals came off dead ball situations and came midway through the first half. Afterwards, they did well to make it difficult for the Azkals to score. Although they failed to keep a clean sheet, the Bahrainis did just enough to stave the Philippine attack. To do the same, they will rely on their back line. Keeper Sayed Jaafar, and defenders Abdulla Al Hazaa and Abdulla Omar are tipped to start for the hosts tomorrow; they have played every minute of the qualifiers thus far. Abdulwahab Al Malood knows how to score against the Philippines, having grabbed the consolation goal in the June qualifier in Bocaue. Wingbacks Faouzi Aaish and Abdullah Abdo also exposed the Azkals’ defense when they last played in Bahrain. Fond of scoring through dead ball situations, expect any outfield player to try find the hole in what has been a stiff Philippines’ defense.

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For the Azkals, confidence is running high. Battered in their own backyard by the in-form Uzbekistan, the Azkals responded with a respectable 0-0 draw against North Korea. The defensive trio of Luke Woodland, Amani Aguinaldo, and Jerry Lucena held their own against the feisty North Korean attackers. The midfield also showed discipline, with the likes of Daisuke Sato, Martin Steuble, Phil Younghusband, and Manny Ott not giving their counterparts room to operate. In offense, the Azkals had their moments but could not create clear-cut chances against the North Koreans.

Playing against Bahrain is a different story. Rushing from Pyongyang to Riffa in order to acclimatize, the Azkals should retain their defensive organization. It was the key to their 2-1 win last time around, almost keeping a clean sheet throughout the entire match. Possession will also be a vital factor. It was against Bahrain that the Azkals first showed impressive ball movement that left opponents reliant on rare, quick breakaways. Armed with pace and creativity in offense, the Philippines have what it takes to repeat what happened in Bocaue. But for that to happen they will need to stay sharp against an equally hungry Bahrain squad. The dream of qualifying for the next round is still within reach; with a win, the Azkals are poised to make a deeper run than many expected.

The match will kick off at 6:00 PM in Bahrain (11:00 PM in the Philippines) and will be televised live on ABS-CBN Sports and Action.

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Eric Camson apologetic after brawl with Raymond Almazan

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Photo by PBA Images

Eric Camson plans to take the high road

Kia forward Eric Camson was deeply apologetic for the brawl he got into with Rain or Shine’s Raymond Almazan during the Picanto-Elasto Painters match Saturday, saying that it was not an intention of his to hurt somebody.

The two got into it with 3:10 left in the second quarter as their jockeying for position underneath turned to a fistfight, after Camson apparently elbowed Almazan. The two were quickly separated to prevent any untoward incident.

“‘Di ko naman intensyon. Makikita naman sa replay na ang intensyon ko, hindi ko naman talaga habol yung mukha. Box lang ako,” the fifth-year pro explained. “Tinamaan ko, hindi ko naman maiiwasan, tapos ginantihan ako.

“Siyempre sa akin pride ko na yon kaya siguro umabot sa ganon.”

Both of them were slapped with a flagrant foul penalty two and got ejected from the match, which went in favor of Kia, 98-94. But tensions spilled outside the court as the two got into a verbal exchange at the dugout.

Luckily, the gates separating the teams’ locker rooms were closed and prevented another scuffle to take place as Almazan claimed that Camson owed him something.

But then again, Camson reiterated that he did not want such incident to take place, saying that he was just too caught up with emotions — emotions brought upon by their eagerness to win after a 16-game losing skid.

“Hindi ko rin naman ginusto yung nangyari na yon.

“Sobrang eager lang siguro ako, pagod na kasi kaming matalo eh,” said the six-foot-four stretch big man, who already had 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists prior to being ousted. “Ayaw namin na pumasok rally nila na eto na naman kami, kasi aminado naman kaming lahat na once na nag-rally na sila, nalalayuan na kami, yung morale namin bumababa na talaga.”

According to PBA officer-in-charge Willie Marcial, Camson and Almazan will be summoned at the Commissioner’s Office on Tuesday. And for Camson, he is ready to face the consequences and seek apology to Almazan.

“Respect ko yon. And hingi akong dispensa,” the 27-year-old disclosed. “Bilang ako yung mas bata kanya ako na lang yung mag-bow sa kanya. Wala namang problema. Pare-parehas naman kaming nasa isang liga, parehas naman kami ng trabaho.

“Hindi naman nakakabawas sa pagkalalaki ko yon. Basketball yan eh.”

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Returning Jericho Cruz believes complacency led to embarrassing loss to KIA

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After three months of being on the sidelines due to a medial collateral ligament injury in his left knee, Jericho Cruz finally sniffed the court for the first time this 2017-18 Philippine Cup, Saturday at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the return he had envisioned.

The Elasto Painters shockingly bowed to the often-ridiculed Kia Picanto, 94-98 — an unacceptable defeat knowing that the Picanto were winless in 16 games and last tasted a win on May 21, 2017 against Phoenix Fuel Masters, 122-121.

“Siyempre it’s sad. ‘Di namin in-expect. Pero siyempre the ball is round,” said Cruz, who scored just a point in 10 minutes, obviously disappointed with the result.

“Di ako masyadong makasalita masyado kasi sobrang sad.”

Heading into Saturday’s bout, the Elasto Painters were heavily favored to win, considering the way the Picanto lost their last three games. In their bouts against Phoenix, Magnolia, and Alaska, Kia lost an average of 35.7 points.

For the 27-year-old guard, he thinks that Rain or Shine’s overconfidence led to the embarrassing setback.

“Siguro sobrang kumpiyansa lang din namin kanina, kaya yun,” rued the four-year pro out of Adamson. “Sobrang sad namin ngayon, pero okay lang, bounce back na lang.

“Tomorrow’s gonna be another day to get better.”

Asked if Raymond Almazan’s ejection from the match due to a brawl with Eric Camson late in the first half affected the Elasto Painters, Cruz doesn’t believe so.

“‘Di naman, kasi lahat naman kami pwedeng mag-step up eh,” expressed the 6-foot-1 guard. “Pero having Raymond being able to play in the game na nandoon siya, yung presence of mind niya, malaking bagay siya eh.

“(Lalo na) With his defense, with his length, ‘di ba. Ayun,” he added.

But like what he said, the E-Painters will just look forward and try to grow from the loss. And the six-foot-one Cruz personally plans to do the same thing, as he aims to regain his game shape after recovering from his knee injury.

“It’s getting better na (left knee). [But] I’m not yet 100 percent at this stage,” he said.

“Siguro nasa 70 percent. Kulang pa ‘ko sa hangin.”

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KIA holds on late against Rain or Shine to end 16-game losing skid

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The Kia Picanto’s months-long, 16-game losing skid has finally come to an end at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94, in a fight-marred affair, Saturday evening at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.

The Picanto, who lost an average of 35.7 points in their last three outings, are now 1-4 in the team standings. Meanwhile, the Elasto Painters, who were coming off a 120-99 victory over the Phoenix Fuel Masters last January 17, dropped to 2-3.

“Finally nasa press room ako hindi nasa corridor. I’m relieved more than tired. I’m more relieved than anything else,” said Kia head coach Ricky Dandan. “We finally broke that (skid) and this will go a long way in our rebuilding for our ball club.”

Rashawn McCarthy and Roider Cabrera scored 14 apiece to lead the Picanto, with the former adding four assists. Forward Mark Yee flirted with a double-double as he finished with 13 markers and eight rebounds.

Kia spent the majority of the final frame ahead, but RoS kept fighting and stayed within distance. However, the Picanto built enough separation, 96-89, with 1:52 to go thanks to McCarthy and three-year pro Glenn Khobuntin.

But just as the win was within their grasp, Rain or Shine imposed a serious threat. Behind an Ed Daquioag jumper and Chris Tiu’s visits to the foul line, the E-Painters managed to close within a field goal, 96-94, with 21.9 ticks left.

RoS had a chance to pull the rug from underneath Kia after forcing McCarthy into a turnover off the inbound with less than 20 seconds left, but shots taken by Tiu, Daquiaog, and Maverick Ahanmisi did not find the mark.

Mark Yee was able to secure the miss, but found himself in a jump ball situation afterwards after a fight for the ball with Beua Belga. Yee won the tip, and Khobuntin was there to get the ball and ran it down for the game-sealing lay-up.

The six-foot-three Khobuntin — probably the star of the night for Kia, as he steadied the Picanto’s ship in the end-game — contributed 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting, scoring eight in the final frame.

RoS’ loss put in vain the breakout game of rookie Rey Nambatac as he had 12 points and 11 rebounds. James Yap scored 11 markers on 4-of-8 shooting, while Tiu and Jewel Ponferrada scored 10 apiece, with Tiu having six boards.

Ahanmisi nearly had a double-double as he had nine points and eight rebounds along with four dimes.

Moreover, this defeat of theirs was a sour welcome for Jericho Cruz, who made his 2018 Philippine Cup debut after missing their first four games due to a knee injury. He only scored one point in the 10:32 minutes he played.

The crazy finish of the match somehow shadowed the brawl between Raymond Almazan and Eric Camson, which took place in the 3:01-mark of the second canto. Both were slapped with penalty two flagrant fouls and were ejected.

Almazan, who had just returned to RoS after being put under disciplinary actions after bumping heads with coach Caloy Garcia, finished with six markers and four rebounds. Camson had 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

Kia were not able to parade new acquisition Carlo Lastimosa. The scoring guard, whom they signed from the free agent market, was in street clothes on the sidelines after spraining his ankle during team practice.

Rain or Shine will look to book their third straight win against the NLEX Road Warriors on January 26, Friday, while Kia will aim to end their historic skid versus the Meralco Bolts on January 24, Wednesday. Both games are set at 4:30 PM at SMART Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:

KIA 98 – McCarthy 14, Cabrera 14, Yee 13, Khobuntin 11, Camson 10, Celda 8, Galanza 8, Ababou 6, Sara 5, Tubid 5, Caperal 4.

Rain or Shine 94 – Nambatac 12, Yap 11, Tiu 10, Ponferada 10, Ahanmisi 9, Belga 8, Norwood 8, Borboran 7, Maiquez 6, Almazan 6, Daquioag 4, King 2, Cruz 1, Matias 0, Trollano 0.

Quarterscores: 13-18; 40-44: 72-68; 98-94.

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Raymond Almazan ejected in return

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It was supposed to be a redemption game for Raymond Almazan after he was benched last Wednesday for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters’ game against the Phoenix Fuel Masters, for disciplinary reasons. But unfortunately, it went the the other way around.

The six-foot-eight center was ejected in the Elasto Painters’ match versus Kia Picanto on Friday evening at the Cuneta Astrodome, following a near-brawl that took place between him and opposing big man Eric Camson.

The incident took place with 3:01 remaining in the second quarter, with the Picanto ahead 34-31. Almazan and Camson were both inside the paint looking for position to grab the missed three-pointer of Jeremy King.

Things then went chippy afterwards, as Camson elbowed Almazan. It did not sit well with the latter and he retaliated, leading to the near-brawl that saw both players swing their arms at each other.

Almazan and Camson had to be separated by their teammates and officials. Moments later, both of them were whistled for a flagrant foul penalty two and were ordered to leave the playing court for good.

Almazan finished with six points and three rebounds in six minutes and 10 seconds of action, while Camson exited the bout with 10 markers, five rebounds, and four assists in over 16 minutes of playing time.

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