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PFL Roundup: Ceres hammers 6 past Meralco; Stallion ends season on a high



It was a busy Sunday in the Philippines Football League as six teams were scheduled to duel for points in the last day before the final international break of the calendar year.

Two Luzon teams flew south with Meralco-Manila visiting Ceres-Negros and Stallion-Laguna getting to play at Davao against the Aguilas. Global-Cebu, meanwhile, headed north to Vigan where Ilocos United were due to host them once again.

Unfortunately, three matches turned into two as an announcement prior to kickoff was made regarding the postponement of the Ilocos-Global encounter. As a result, only four teams saw action.

Fernando Rodriguez leads Ceres in vengeful thrashing of Meralco

Led by Fernando Rodriguez, Ceres-Negros reminded everyone of their strength Sunday evening at the Panaad Stadium where they demolished Meralco-Manila, 6-0, to boost their chances of securing top spot in the finals series.

The win also appeared to be a revenge job of sorts as Ceres suffered their only loss at home in all competitions this season against the Sparks. Not keen to allow that to happen again, the Busmen set their sights in opening the scoring this time around. Meralco, however, proved early on that they were not there to give their opponents the easy three points.

As a matter of fact, the visitors threatened to replicate their feat back in late August. Two decent attempts from Curt Dizon and Milan Nikolić got Ceres keeper Roland Müller on his toes but with neither going in, his team stays in course to strike first.

And so they did, beginning midway through the first half. Bienve Marañon hammered a long range strike darting towards the back of the net, rendering young Meralco goalkeeper Ace Villanueva helpless in the situation. Not long after, Carli de Murga extended the hosts’ advantage when he instinctively guided the ball off a loose OJ Porteria attempt.

Conceding two quick goals in the first half, the Sparks knew they needed to conjure up a response before halftime. Unfortunately for them, not only did they remain goalless come the interval as they fell deeper into a hole dug by Ceres’ star man Rodriguez. The Spaniard doubled the then-already two-goal lead with two smart finishes by the striker. Both of his first half efforts came from the visiting team’s inability to deal with crosses from both Porteria and Iain Ramsay.

At 4-0 down with 45 minutes remaining, Meralco looked down and out. They did all they could to halt the drubbing at four but were eventually powerless in denying the home side of scoring more. Usual suspects Rodriguez and Marañon completed their respective hattrick and brace to decorate an emphatic win against the league leaders.

For Risto Vidakovic, intensity is key as his boys displayed vast amounts of it in their latest assignment. “We played with high intensity and if we play with high intensity, the result is usually very good,” the former Real Betis defender reckoned.

Approaching the business end of the season, results usually mean much more than the performance. For a team that can pretty much get big results while playing their best football on a regular basis, Ceres is surely tagged by many as the firm favorites for the PFL title. They are mathematically 10 points away from clinching top spot with 15 points still up for grabs. At this rate, the Busmen will really take some stopping.

Late Stallion surge breaks profligate Davao Aguilas’ hearts

As both Davao Aguilas and Stallion-Laguna looked for consolation points in their inaugural PFL campaigns, fans were treated to a thrilling battle between two of the league’s dangerous teams come next season. Stallion went on to take the contest, 2-0, through brilliant strikes from two of their most lethal finishers in the Saturday afternoon encounter at the Davao del Norte Sports Complex.

It marked the 13th time the Mindanao club lost a league game despite their sensational signings coming on board late in the season. This one stung more than the others though as it was a game Davao could have actually won. Led by the talented Harrison Sawyer and the experienced Phil Younghusband, the hosts continuously tested their opponents’ sturdy defense. Having conceded four against Global, the Laguna-based team hoped to do better this time around and so they did as Benito Rosalia Jr. and his mates at the back row held firm.

Their strength in defense proved to be key as it looked to put the burden of winning to the hosts. After a dominant first half, the Aguilas suddenly faded. This is when the away team capitalized. Failing to start an attack, the home team clumsily gave away possession just inside their half. This ultimately set up Gabriele Mascazzini to finish cleanly past Nick O’Donnell.

Ahead by a goal, Stallion once again weathered an expected Davao attacking spree. As time nearly ran out, the visitors secured the result with a Fitch Arboleda strike. A fitting end to what has been a memorable season for Stallion, the first team to complete all their league games.

Provided that JPV won’t pick up more than six points in their last four matches, Ernie Nierras’ men will have a fifth place finish to make do with their strong second half showings in the league. The result also condemned Davao to finishing no better than seventh.

Photo by Stephen Tan/Ceres-Negros FC



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



Contributed photos

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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