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Mike Ott leaves it late against Yemen, helps Azkals remain on course for Asian Cup

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Mike Ott came to the rescue, as his 89th minute goal not only saved the Philippines’ blushes against Yemen — it also proved to be a vital equalizer in the Filipinos’ bid to make it to the AFC Asian Cup for the very first time.

The late strike earned Thomas Dooley’s Azkals a valuable point away from home, frustrating a Yemeni side that dominated proceedings on Tuesday night at the Saoud Bin Abdulrahman stadium in Al-Wakra, Qatar.

Ott finished off a fine move that began from the right when game-changers Junior Muñoz and James Younghusband connected to unlock the Yemeni defense. The Davao Aguilas midfielder then drilled the ball to Ott, whose finish from about 10 yards is of someone whose poise and elegance showed in a pressure-packed moment.

Playing away from home for the second time in this round, the Philippines began the game positively hoping to replicate the success in Dushanbe. They had more of the possession in the first 10 minutes, but they couldn’t come up with enough chances to trouble Yemeni goalkeeper Mohammed Ayash. Speculative but decent shots from Mike Ott, Daisuke Sato, and Kevin Ingreso didn’t do much to test the hosts, who gradually shifted the momentum of the game towards their favor.

As Yemen settled down and forced their way around the Philippine half, the Azkals faced a stern test to keep their foes from drawing first blood. There were times the Filipinos would interrupt the Yemenis’ attacks but they lacked the creativity to break them down the other end. So it did not come as a surprise that the best chance of the half fell to the red shirts when Ala’a Al Sasi pounced on a loose ball before thumping the ball off Neil Etheridge’s crossbar. The Cardiff City custodian was fortunate the woodwork was low enough to bail out his team, and more particularly Dennis Villanueva, out. The Global defender carelessly gave away possession to invite Al Sasi from considerably attainable range.

The Filipinos weathered the first half storm generated by the home side, but it looked more like a containing job rather than one that would solidify their hold on top of Group F. The lack of creativity may well be attributed to the absences of Javi Patiño, Misagh Bahadoran and Manny Ott, who have been brilliant when playing together in Philippine colors.

Still, the likes of Manny Ott’s brother Mike, Phil Younghusband, Iain Ramsay, and Paul Mulders are all capable of providing a spark offensively. Given the platform to shine anew as they’ve had in their previous stints with the Azkals, those leading the line combined well to scare Yemen’s defense, which has been by far the best in the group.

Ramsay’s sharp low cross from the right located Ott whose touch sent the ball towards Younghusband’s way. The country’s leading goalscorer may have gotten to the ball had he been a little faster as Ayash successfully snuffed out the brewing Azkals’ attack. What a fleeting chance that proved to be as the Middle Eastern side corralled control once again.

Nabil Hazaea struck the woodwork two minutes before the hour mark as his nifty move allowed him to gain room inside the Azkals’ box. Unfortunately for him, he hit the top part of the crossbar which bounced the ball away from the goal. It wasn’t the closest Yemen got as a few moments later, the visitors only had Sean Kane to thank as the JPV man got to block two quality attempts by Yemen.

The 26 year-old was powerless in stopping Yemen from scoring off a set piece moments after rescuing the team as a pinball inside the area saw the ball fell to Tawfiq Ali. The attacker was at the right place at the right time to swing the ball past Etheridge in the 63rd minute.

Falling behind, Azkals regrouped with Dooley shuffling his cards. He brought on players such as Junior Muñoz and James Younghusband and these moves duly paid off towards the end. As the Filipinos were staring at the barrel of defeat, the substitutes came up big by setting up the sequence finished off by the Angthong United midfielder in the penultimate minute of normal time. The visitors held on to a crucial point.

The result allows the Philippines to stay on top of Group F and gives them the opportunity to seal qualification to UAE with a win away to Nepal. While that won’t come easy, the unbeaten Azkals have previous encounters and fine form to look forward to as they hope to get the job done in Kathmandu. The fifth round of fixtures are slated on the 14th of November, with Yemen also set to host Tajikistan in Qatar.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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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