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Palami braces for gruelling period to achieve Asian Cup Qualification

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The Philippine men’s national football team’s (Azkals) patron Dan Palami and the rest of the team were undone by tough luck after going through four straight games without a win in the joint 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. The latest setback came at home against Yemen, who claimed their first goal and points in the second round. Afterwards, the manager spoke about the team’s situation towards qualification, especially for the continental tournament.

Palami thought the team was unlucky against a determined Yemen team. Possession was almost equal, but the home side had the better of the chances before Yemen punched home a late go-ahead goal. Palami, a known supporter of the UP Maroons and Global FC, lamented their inability to take their chances on the night, saying, “If you don’t score and don’t convert all those chances, there’s no way to win the game.”

The Azkals created a good number of opportunities throughout the match, although the same could be said of their opponents, who pounced on every mishap the defense made. Quality-wise, few would argue that the Azkals did not have the better ones. Jerry Lucena was presented with a neat chance in the first half but saw his header palmed out by Mohammed Ayash. In the closing half, they had another golden chance to take the lead. Martin Steuble slid the ball in off a low cross from Kevin Ingreso. The referee, however, deemed the ball to have been cleared off the line by the Yemeni defenders. Palami was diplomatic in his assessment. “Unless the referee says it’s in, it’s out,” he said after expressing that the shot looked good from his point of view.

The Azkals had huffed and puffed to break the deadlock. What happened instead was a defensive lapse that led to a goal conceded seven minutes before time. Despite the loss, Palami ruled out any thoughts of complacency against a team that look inferior on paper. “We were able to create those chances. The lapse in concentration also happened in the early stages; this time (83rd minute) we allowed the goal,” he frustratingly quipped.

A frustrating night indeed for the Philippines as they now stare at a five-point gap between them and second-placed Uzbekistan, who have played a game less than the Azkals. The Uzbeks can eliminate the Filipinos from World Cup Qualification should they beat Yemen in Tashkent this coming week. Despite such circumstance, all is not lost for the Azkals. The Philippines are currently in third in five-team Group H with the third and fourth seeded teams gaining entry to the next qualifying round of the 2019 Asian Cup.

A difference between placing third and fourth is the guarantee of entering the next round. Third-placed teams automatically enter the third round of Asian Cup Qualifying, while fourth-placed teams would have to be weighed alongside each other to determine their passage to the next round. The bright side of losing to the Yemenis, who are projected to finish bottom of the group, is that points against them will not be counted should the Azkals finish in fourth place. Due to the uneven number of teams in a group, mainly caused by Indonesia’s suspension, the fourth seeded teams will only be assessed by points gained against teams above them. Indonesia’s group – composed of Thailand, Iraq, Vietnam, and Chinese Taipei – is the only four-team group in the second round of joint qualification.

What is important for the Azkals now is to get as many points in their upcoming matches versus the two best teams in the group: Uzbekistan away and North Korea at home. Aware that it is easier said than done, Palami is keen to see the Azkals bounce back from the previous run of bad results – and not only to salvage pride. This week, Uzbekistan host Yemen and North Korea welcome Bahrain; hence, the Philippines will return to Qualifiers action in four months’ time come March, with a trip to Uzbekistan before a home game against North Korea. Given plenty of time to regroup, the Azkals’ chief backer is hoping to make good use of the long break. “We have a long time to dwell on this loss and we have time to reflect on what could be done,” Palami stated, reflecting the ailing form of the team still able to reach greater heights in the Qualifiers.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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Basketball

Glenn Khobuntin repays Ricky Dandan’s trust with end-game heroics

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FILE Photo from PBA Images

Glenn Khobuntin can finally say that he had himself a moment in the pro ranks

The National University alumnus proved his worth for the Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to their first win after a historic 16-game skid, at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” lauded Kia head coach Ricky Dandan of the takeover by the six-foot-four forward.

“It was a blessing he didn’t play for the first two quarters because he [came in] fresh at gigil na gigil.”

Khobuntin finished with 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting — the best game he’s had so far, not because of the numbers he posted but with the way he made them. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all onto himself.

“Hindi lang din naman ako e, kami ding lahat e,” the 26-year-old shared. “Siguro kumbaga nagka-opportunity lang, napunta sa akin yung bola kasi yun yung nasa scheme ng play so ayun.

“Thankful lang ako na-hit ko yung mga na-design na plays.”

However, the third-year pro admitted that he had been frightened during the game’s final stretch, as Rain or Shine managed to impose a serious threat by coming back from a seven-point deficit, 94-96, with just less than 22 ticks left to play.

“Kinakabahan ako kasi two minutes pa rin yun e tapos Rain or Shine yung kalaban namin,” the native of Cagayan de Oro said. “Nakita ko nakakabalik sila. Thankful lang naman ako na yung game napunta sa amin, at least natapos yung losing streak namin.”

But more than the end of their months-long slump, what Khobuntin is grateful for is the trust given to him by Dandan, who fielded him as a starter in the second half after sitting out the entirety of the first 24 minutes.

“Nag-decide siya na ako yung i-start niya so thankful ako kasi nagtiwala siya sa akin.”

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ABL

Justin Brownlee, Alab lock down Knights for fifth win

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Paying a visit to Indonesia for the first time this season, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas needed time to figure the CLS Knights out before stifling the hosts in the final frame to take a 92-87 road win, Saturday evening at the GOR CLS Kertajaya in Indonesia.

This is Alab’s second straight win after losing to the Singapore Slingers last January 10.

With the win, the Philippine-based club team lifts its slate to 5-4 for solo fourth. CLS, on the other hand, dropped to 1-7 — just half a game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Formosa Dreamers.

Justin Brownlee displayed his all-around brilliance in the game, leading Alab with 36 points on 15-for-24 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

But Alab’s bench could not sustain the effort of the starters, which meant the team was clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a spark, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided for Alab, knocking down a triple that proved to be the starting point 14-2 Alab run. A jumper by Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with 2:57 left capped the rally and gave Alab an 87-73 lead.

Hontiveros scored five of the eight Alab bench points. Fortunately for Alab, Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. were on point. The former tallying a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Alab’s skipper had 14 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Coach Jimmy Alapag fielded his bench afterwards, but they let the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan slice the lead to as low as four points. Then free throws by Oping Sumalinog with eight ticks left put CLS away for good.

Williams paced CLS with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kurniawan added 19 markers. Indonesian legend Wuysang had 17 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Alab ends its road trip on Sunday, January 28, when it takes on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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