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Football

PFL Roundup: Ceres-Negros restarts league campaign on a high; Stallion-Laguna closes in on playoff race

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The Philippines Football League was in full swing this weekend, as all eight teams figured in action. There weren’t plenty of goals across the four games, but it wasn’t an uninteresting weekend, as the race for the playoffs continues. Here’s how the latest match week unfolded:

Ceres-Negros hammers new-look Davao Aguilas to resume league campaign in style, 3-1


Ceres-Negros turned up the heat in their most recent game in the league as they whipped Davao Aguilas, 3-1, Saturday afternoo, in a match that was played in Rizal Memorial Stadium due to the unavailability of Davao’s grounds in Tagum.

THis is the first time Risto Vidakovic’s side have played in the PFL since their record-shattering defeat to Meralco late last month, and they guaranteed themselves a bright restart to the league following a humbling experience against Istiklol in the AFC Cup.

The Busmen took 19 minutes to break the deadlock courtesy of Fernando Rodriguez. The Spaniard brilliantly finished a play that began with Manny Ott and Bienvenido Marañon, with the number nine making the move to meet Jeffrey Christiaens’ well-placed cross into the box. It was a justification of the game’s tempo as the Negrenses controlled the opening exchanges.

More chances came for Ceres, as the likes of OJ Porteria and Stephan Schröck caused problems to the Davao backline only for Marko Trkulja to keep them out. Withstanding another barrage from the Visayans, Davao missed a gilt-edged chance to punish their opponents, who had committed a rare defensive mistake. Phil Younghusband would have made it 1-1 had it not been for Roland Müller’s impressive stop 17 minutes before the break.

It stayed 1-0 after the first half, but Rodriguez knew he should have made it two. A sorry miss from close range off a Schröck delivery in the 36th minute was a let-off for the Aguilas.

His compatriot, Marañon, made sure Rodriguez wouldn’t dwell on the mishap in the first half, as he tucked the ball into the back of the net in the 50th minute. A well-worked play by Porteria allowed Bienve the chance to beat Trkulja for some much-needed breathing space against the pesky Aguilas.

The Spanish duo asked more questions of the Davao defense, with many sensing that at least one of them would get another goal. Towards the end, it was Rodriguez who claimed the brace when he was located brilliantly by Christiaens. With three minutes to spare, the Ceres striker capped the game off with a clinical finish.

Just like in their loss to Global in midweek, Davao got a goal late in the match through Harrison Sawyer. The Australian forward produced another consolation goal off a set piece.

With the win, Negros are now back in the top four spots, overtaking JPV-Marikina. Already with 28 points in just 13 matches, Ceres have plenty of games ahead of them and, should they win most of those, stand a good chance of going well past Meralco-Manila for the top spot.

Melliza, Stallion-Laguna keeps hot streak going in pivotal win against JPV-Marikina, 1-0


Jesus “Jhan-Jhan” Melliza and Stallion-Laguna just keep getting better and better approaching the business end of the season, as they record their fourth consecutive victory in a 1-0 decision against JPV-Marikina in Biñan.

Melliza, leading the goalscoring charts this season, had the telling touch in the 77th minute of the game to sink JPV-Marikina for the third time in the league. Suffice to say it was a difficult game for both sides, as neither wanted to let the other gain ground on them.

The result, in the end, may feel a bit harsh for Voltes, who were not without good chances to test the hosts. They held the ball 54% of the time in order to produce 10 shots, 5 of which were on target.

But no Marikeño produced a finish good enough to breach an increasingly confident Stallion defense. Throughout their last 450 minutes played, the Laguna team only allowed two goals. With key games against Global and Kaya coming up, Stallion’s current form is definitely encouraging.

Their sturdiness at the back was augmenteed by Melliza’s resurgent form in front of goal. Once a talisman for Green Archers United, he has now scored 13 goals in the league, with five of those coming in the last two games. If Stallion-Laguna would take some stopping, opposing defenses will have to keep the FEU alum quiet or run the risk of falling victim to the Stallion juggernaut.

As a result of Melliza’s strike, Stallion are now just four points off the playoff places, albeit playing more times than most teams. A playoff spot looked far-fetched around two months ago, but it is certainly within reach now. As for JPV-Marikina, their days of topping the league looked like centuries ago as they fell to fifth in the standings, just two points ahead of Stallion.

Global-Cebu, Meralco-Manila settle for a goalless stalemate, 0-0


In a top-of-the-table match, no team wants to give the other an opportunity to progress at their expense. Hence, the match between league-leaders Meralco-Manila and Global-Cebu concluded quite unsurprisingly in a 0-0 draw Saturday afternoon at the Cebu City Sports Complex.

Having been a fortress, the Cebu City Sports Complex hosted six games prior to Meralco’s visit this weekend. Out of the six, Global managed to triumph on four occasions. Throughout that spell, the Cebuanos also held firm on defense, as they have only conceded at home this season.

Meralco entered the match with their sights on shattering their opponents’ invincibility at home. After all, they were also the ones who had ended the dominance of Ceres-Negros at Panaad earlier this season. If there was a team that could do it in Cebu, it would be the Sparks.

They looked more dangerous on the ball early on, and could have had a goal or two to show for it. Tahj Minniecon was denied by Patrick Deyto in what was the best chance of the first half.

Conditions in the second half were no better as rain made it trickier for both teams to play football. It actually aided attacking players more than their defensive counterparts as the slippery conditions presented multiple opportunities for each team capitalize on.

Unfortunately, neither managed to convert any of their shots within the 90 minutes. In the earlier part, Meralco appeared to be more threatening while Global stepped on the gas in the final minutes hoping to catch their exhausted foes off guard.

In the end, the points were shared perhaps pleasing Aris Caslib’s Sparks more than Akbar Nawas’ side. Manila are now seven points clear of Cebu, sitting in second, with 34 points. The Sparks can also add more, as they have a game in hand vis-à-vis Global.

Mintah rescues profligate Kaya-Makati to escape Ilocos with narrow triumph, 1-0


A Jordan Mintah header 34 minutes into the match turned out to be the difference between lowly Ilocos United and play-off contenders Kaya-Makati, as the latter left the Quirino Stadium with three more points in the bag courtesy of a 1-0 win yesterday afternoon.

The Makati club dominated proceedings and were mostly hindered by their inability to convert chances into goals. While Mintah got himself to the scoresheet, the likes of Robert Lopez Mendy and Jovin Bedic failed to join him as the resolute Ilocos defense somewhat executed a plan to limit Kaya’s danger men.

Ultimately, it boiled down to a quality of finishing, which still needs improvement according to Coach Noel Marcaida. “The game looked tough because we kept on missing goal scoring opportunities. I think we could’ve finished the game as early as the first half if we finished all our chances,” Kaya’s mentor reckoned.

Nonetheless, Kaya-Makati dodged a banana slip against one of two teams still without a win in the PFL. In doing so, Kaya-Makati regained the third spot they had temporarily lost to Ceres-Negros and consolidated their grip on a playoff spot.

ON DECK


Two mouthwatering ties are due this midweek. A repeat of the clash at Rizal Memorial is on the cards, as Davao welcome Negros in their Tagum home turf on Wednesday afternoon. Later that day, Global will entertain Stallion at home, hoping to avenge a 2-1 loss they endured to the Laguna outfit last month.

Photo by Stephen Tan/Ceres-Negros FC

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Ilocos United takes leave from PFL

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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

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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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Photo from the-AFC.com

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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