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Merciless Istiklol sends Ceres-Negros on brink of elimination



The colorful 2017 AFC Cup journey of Ceres-Negros may just have 90 minutes left in it, after they succumbed to a 4-0 defeat to ruthless FC Istiklol of Tajikistan in the first leg of the tournament’s Inter-Zonal Semifinal, held on Wednesday evening at the Respublikanskiy Stadion im M.V. Frunze in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Ceres-Negros initially appeared to have settled quickly in Dushanbe, as they had more of the possession in the first 15 minutes of play. However the Negrenses weren’t able to test the hosts’ defense too much, as lack of fluidity in the attacking third saw sequences break down too often for their liking.

Down the other side of the pitch, Istiklol had a few fair opportunities to break the deadlock to their favor. The Tajikistan champions wanted to make their home advantage count as early as possible, blasting three shots over the frame. Manuchekhr Dzhalilov provided the closest of them in the 17th minute, gaining space to shoot from a well-worked set piece only to squander it off the mark.

They may have not taken the lead at that point but the latest developments provided a sense of encouragement not just to the Istiklol players, but also to the fans in attendance. Growing in confidence, the home team turned the momentum around and got themselves a penalty in the 24th minute.

History does indeed repeat itself, and Ceres-Negros hadn’t learned enough to change their fortunes. For the third consecutive away game in the AFC Cup, they had given away a penalty to their opponents. This time it was Kota Kawase who was at fault. The Japanese defender launched a late challenge on Dmitri Barkov inside the penalty area. Carli de Murga did jis best to unsettle Akhmat Nazarov, but the penalty taker shrugged it off as he blasted it well past Roland Müller. Just like that and Ceres find themselves trailing yet again in their travels.

The hosts attempted to build from the early goal, well aware of the dangers Ceres-Negros pose away from home. Only FELDA United managed to shutout Risto Vidakovic’s men whenever they were away from home in this season’s AFC Cup with the away goals in ties against Johor Darul Takzim and Home United also bailing Ceres-Negros from defeats suffered away from the Panaad Stadium.

For the remainder of the first period, Istiklol looked favourites to find the second goal of the game as Ceres-Negros struggled to find their footing in the tie. The hosts did not let the half end without padding their slender lead. In first half added time, Romish Dzhalilov capped off a swift attacking move that put the Filipinos in a difficult position entering the second half. Ceres may just have to scale a mountain similar to the Pamirs in order to salvage a result for Negros.

Fortunately for Ceres-Negros, there were still 45 minutes to pull at least a goal back and do more of the damage in their own backyard. They got off to a good start by playing more proactively on the attack, imposing themselves against a team that has yet to concede a 2017 AFC Cup goal in Dushanbe. The men in yellow were getting deeper into the Istiklol half more frequently than they had early on, but still had the telling final touch lacking in their game.

Just as Ceres-Negros were finding their rhythm offensively, a huge blow hit them midway in the closing half. M. Dzhalilov, the highly-rated Istiqlol talisman who had scuffed an earlier attempt, whipped a wonderful strike to make it a comfortable 3-0 advantage for the home side. Still without a decent shot to test Istiklol keeper Nikola Stosić, the Philippine side knew they were in all kinds of trouble now, especially if they failed to score before leaving the Tajikistan capital.

As time slowly faded away, the trailing side had to work hard on both ends of the field, as they aimed to win the rest of the match at 3-0 down. Having a hard time breaking the Central Asians down, Ceres were even made to labor defensively as Istiklol didn’t show any signs of taking their feet off the pedal.

One man capable of dealing more damage to the Filipinos was M. Dzhalilov. The 26-year-old nearly extended the lead 11 minutes before time when he was left unmarked inside the box. Unfortunately for the Tajikistan international, he sent it uncharacteristically wide.

It wouldn’t be the last time he got a sniff of goal, as he buried a chance that may perhaps be enough for Istiklol to book their place in the inter-zonal final. Manuchekhr pounced on poor Ceres defending to finish with ease from close range. It certainly underlined Istiklol’s intentions to win the AFC Cup for the first time as they put on a magnificent performance against Southeast Asia’s finest.

Down but not out just yet, Ceres-Negros can still find their way to the inter-zonal final but they need to overhaul the huge 4-0 aggregate deficit. It’s also worth noting that an Istiklol away goal would make things tougher for the Negrenses, who will host their opponents from Tajikistan in the second leg of their tie on September 12.

If they are to pull off a miracle of biblical proportions, doing it in front of a passionate crowd back home may just well be the place to do it.



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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