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PFL Roundup: Meralco edges Kaya via late strike; Aguilas rally back to frustrate Stallion



Another weekend meant another set of football action in the country’s premier football competition, the Philippines Football League.

All eight teams saw action, with a derby in the capital kicking things off. Elsewhere, Ceres and Global returned home with the aim of bouncing back from disappointing defeats. And while already out of contention, both Stallion and Davao sought to finish the inaugural PFL season strong when they prepared to face each other in Mindanao.

Valmayor strikes late to lift Meralco over Kaya in capital derby thriller, 1-0

A connection all too familiar to UAAP fans — particularly those of the UP men’s football team — spelled the difference between the Meralco-Manila Sparks and Kaya-Makati FC. The men coached by Aris Caslib banked on Jinggoy Valmayor’s effort in second half added time to deal Noel Marcaida’s men a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat in a heated affair, Saturday evening at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

“It was a tough match, but then the players stepped up. We were fortunate to have good substitutions in the end,” Sparks coach Caslib stated after the game. His adjustments made a positive impact late in the game, but the former national team coach also had a strong game plan. The Sparks controlled the passage of play in the first half as they kept former Meralco keeper Ref Cuaresma busy.

The Kaya goalkeeper had to fend off multiple attempts by the hosts. All of his stops looked routine, signifying his prowess in between the sticks. A brilliant effort from Tahj Minniecon six minutes into the match was perhaps the most challenging save he made. He had to stretch a few more muscles to gather the Australian’s attempt.

As the game went on, Kaya struggled to match their opponents’ intensity, as they had come off a midweek trip to Davao midweek, unlike their opponents whose last activity was two weeks ago. Nevertheless, the boys in black were doing well to hold off Meralco’s attacks.

The second half offered plenty of time for both teams to regroup, and the back-and-forth nature of the proceedings showed. Not willing to give another the edge, neither team let up defensively. No wonder that chances came few and far in between, with Daniel Gadia and Robert Lopez Mendy unable to find the target for their respective sides.

As a cagey affair ensued, tempers caught up with some of the players. Miguel Tanton received a straight red card in the 70th minute following a rash challenge on Gadia. While it was a huge setback, Kaya managed to frustrate Meralco’s frontline. The Sparks were not able to make the extra man count, and eventually saw the numerical advantage disappear when Milan Nikolic was booked for the second time in the game.

As the game became more open, the Fighting Maroon duo of Gadia and Valmayor linked up once again. Reminiscent of their days with UP, the midfielder did well to shrug off defenders before locating the tall striker, who came on in lieu of Connor Tacagni midway through the second half.

There was only little time remaining, but Kaya threatened late after going a goal down. A cheeky attempt by Jordan Mintah nearly rescued his team a point if not for Joaco Canas’ heroic clearance at the other end. The Spaniard’s goal line clearance preserved the lead for good to earn the Sparks a valuable victory against their crosstown rivals.

Davao shows grit in foiling Stallion victory, 2-2

Davao Aguilas prevented a home defeat by scoring two second half goals against Stallion-Laguna, as the two teams shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw, Sunday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

The visitors on paper got off to a hot start, taking less than two minutes to open the scoring courtesy of Yannick Tuason. The quick strike came as a huge blow for the Aguilas, who had yet to settle before going down. It became worse before it got better for Marlon Maro’s boys 15 minutes later, when Fitch Arboleda padded the advantage with an amazing volley.

Left with an awful lot to do, Davao drew on the strength of the few Davao fans who made the Manila facility feel like home as they lease the home venue of the Sparks. Brad McDonald got what they were looking for by pulling one back early in the second half. The Australian weaved his way past the Stallion defense in order to finish sublimely from the left side of the box.

Seizing momentum, Davao smelled blood. They maintained an energetic approach in their pursuit of an equalizing goal, which came eight minutes before time. Another Australian, Harrison Sawyer, did the damage when he was in the right place at the right time to smash a loose ball into the back of the net.

The turnaround would have been completed had it not been for Benito Rosalia’s wonderful save to deny Phil Younghusband a potential winning goal late in the game. In the end, the scores stayed level — perhaps a fair one, as it turned out to be a game of two halves. The result also meant that both teams are effectively no longer in the running for playoff spots.

Global-Cebu preserves strong home record by overcoming Ilocos United challenge, 3-2

Global dodged the upset axe mainly thanks to Wesley Dos Santos’ goal, as they saw off Ilocos United in a 3-2 thriller at the fortress of a venue in the Cebu City Sports Complex, Sunday evening.

The visitors shocked the team chasing a spot in the playoffs when Arthur Kouassi gave the Ilocanos the lead after 19 minutes. Thankfully for the hosts, they were able to respond swiftly through Darryl Roberts. The Trinidad and Tobago man grabbed the equalizer off a quick play just moments after the restart.

Gaining ground, the Cebuanos laboured to take the lead before halftime, and did so once again through Roberts. Yet the Ilocanos and Kouassi returned the favor, as they immediately answered to restore parity at the break.

If the first half had plenty of goals, the second half had only one. It came at the latter part of the half, which succeeded a cagey opening 30-minute period. Global had more of the ball but Ilocos produced a more dangerous chance through Chima Uzoka. Against the run of play, the striker came agonizingly close to retaking the lead for his side.

Towards the end, Global made their dominance in possession count, as an attacking barrage led to a goal by dos Santos. The Brazilian got on the end of a play initiated by Yu Hoshide to bring Global ahead with only minutes to spare. This time around, they held on for good and may have even widened the margin if not for Baba Sampana’s presence.

The result brought Global two points away from sealing a place in the final series, but the last United Football League champions won’t just push for a berth in the playoffs, as they look to overtake Kaya and maybe even Ceres to improve their rankings.

Ceres breaks JPV curse in five-goal home rout

Ceres-Negros dealt JPV-Marikina a 5-0 thrashing, as the Negrenses emphatically returned to winning ways — and not just in the PFL, as they have also arrested a slump against their opponents in Saturday afternoon’s clash at the Panaad Stadium.

It had been more than a year since the last time Ceres defeated JPV, and the hosts waited to play the swashbuckling club from Marikina in their own backyard. Staging their first-ever match in front of the fabled Panaad crowd, Risto Vidakovic’s team took advantage of the seemingly overwhelmed team managed by Dan Padernal.

Coming off a midweek loss against Stallion, the Busmen wasted no time to rebound from the setback. A three-goal haul in the first seven minutes of the encounter took the visitors out of the contest almost entirely. Unsurprisingly, Fernando Rodriguez was among the goals alongside Fil-Australian Iain Ramsay.

Rodriguez linked up well with OJ Porteria, whilst his compatriot was fed by a brilliant Stephan Schröck pass. Ramsay’s alertness led to the third goal, as he mercilessly took advantage of a foiled clearance.

JPV attempted to get themselves back in the game through decent tries on goal by Kouichi Belgira and Takumi Uesato. Both made the Ceres defense work, but also acknowledged that they needed to do better to have salvaged a result. At the break, JPV managed to limit the damage to three. After the interval, however, the visiting team fell once more to a fast start by their opponents.

Porteria slotted home the fourth in the 49th minute off a rebound from a saved Schröck shot. JPV then briefly silenced the Ceres attack, before a Marañon goal in the 80th minute capped off the 5-0 mauling. The win not only guarantees Ceres a spot in the final series, as it also puts them in a good position to claim one of the top two seeds. Six points behind the league-leading Sparks, the Busmen look to maximize their three games in hand to secure top spot at the end of eliminations.



Bienvenido Maranon scores brace as Ceres-Negros eliminates Brisbane Roar



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Philippine club football just achieved its biggest continental result yet

The inaugural Philippines Football League champions Ceres-Negros Football Club eliminated three-time Australian champions Brisbane Roar in the 2018 AFC Champions League’s second preliminary round with a 3-2 stunner away at the QSAC Stadium in Brisbane.

With the win, the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Champions are set to face Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian next January 30, 2018 at the Haihe Educational Football Stadium in Tianjin, China to book a seat in the group stages.

Brisbane were the favorites for this tie and it showed as Ceres started the contest at the backfoot. Italian striker Massimo Maccarone handed the home side the lead at the 35th minute when he turned in Brett Holman’s pass.

Maccarone’s goal could have lowered the Busmen’s moral, but Risto Vidakovic’s men took it as a motivation rather than a downer. In fact, Ceres replied in the best way possible when Bienvenido Maranon scored his first goal of the match two minutes from halftime thanks to a scramble in the Brisbane box.

By all accounts, Ceres already made Philippine football proud at halftime. By this stage last year, Brisbane accrued a 4-0 halftime cushion against Global Cebu en route to a 6-0 rout.

Today, though, Brisbane faced tougher resistance at the hands of Ceres. This resistance turned into a full-fledged revolt at the 65th minute when Maranon directed the ball past a helpless Jamie Young to give the Busmen their first taste of the lead.

Maranon’s goal well and truly turned the tide in Ceres’ favor. Brisbane were stunned. The home side are the defending A-League champions, but are currently eighth in the table this season and would soon face elimination from Asia’s premier club competition.

Already up 2-1, the Busmen finally achieved some breathing space at the 75th minute when Omid Nazari scored from close range to give Ceres a two-goal cushion from Brisbane.

Nazari’s goal not only sealed the win for Ceres as it also propelled Philippine football into the big leagues. Not even a late goal from French midfielder Éric Bauthéac can prevent the Busmen’s victory.

After five minutes of stoppage time, Ceres emerged 3-2 winners against Brisbane Roar. Come what may against Tianjin seven days from now, the Busmen have already achieved Philippine football’s biggest result ever since their own achievement in last season’s AFC Cup.

Who knows? Maybe Ceres can pull off another upset?

Ceres-Negros XI: Doblas (GK), Super, Mike Ott, Ingreso, Maranon, Porteria, Schrock, De Murga (C), Munoz, Nazari, Christaens.

Brisbane Roar XI: Ingham, Bowles, Papadopoulos, Maccarone, Holman, Khalfallah, Oxborrow, McKay (C), Hingert, Young (GK), Franjic.

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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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