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PFL Roundup: Meralco-Manila continues Davao’s misery; Ceres-Negros blanks Global-Cebu



Another weekend means one thing for Philippine football fans: a new set of Philippines Football League matches. This match week provided a lot of excitement, perhaps more than the usual, as there were plenty of subplots developing across the league.

The Younghusband brothers were back in Manila but were obviously donning the colors of Davao Aguilas.

Over in Panaad, the Visayan rivalry between Ceres-Negros and Global-Cebu entered its third chapter following a home win apiece.

Stallion-Laguna put their final four hopes to the test when they met fellow playoff contenders Davao Aguilas. Last but not the least, an anemic JPV-Marikina squad hosted a winless Ilocos United team that remained determined of bagging their first ever three points as a team.

Here’s how the action unfolded:

Late Kennedy Uzoka strike forces inaugural Ilocos United win against slumping JPV-Marikina

Kennedy Uzoka found a late breakthrough goal to help carve Ilocos United’s first ever victory in the PFL. They got it at the expense of JPV-Marikina, a club that once stood on top of the table earlier this season, Saturday afternoon in Biñan, Laguna.

Having been in the bottom of the table since matchday two, it is definitely a relief for Coach Ian Gillan and the rest of the Ilocos United crew. The Brit felt great not just about the result as he was delighted by the performance of his team. “It’s fantastic that we got our first win. I’m happy for the management… There was really a lot of positives from the performance. I can’t emphasize enough how ecstatic I am for the supporters who stuck by us through thick and thin,” he noted.

Playing on the road for the 11th time this season, Ilocos United badly eyed a change in fortunes and got exactly what they were looking for in their 20th match of the season. Things, however, initially didn’t look great for them.

Alen Angeles gave JPV-Marikina, who played their home game at Stallion’s home ground, an early lead. He tucked the ball in off a Kouichi Belgira cross just 12 minutes after kickoff. At that moment, it’s as if Voltes would be able to arrest their skid while Ilocos United’s woes would be prolonged.

Falling a goal down is truly a familiar situation for Ilocos United who lost 15 matches already this season. This time proved to be different than the rest as Ian Gillan and his wards gradually recovered and even turned it around.

It all began with a 32nd minute strike from Angelo Marasigan who did magnificently well to locate the top left corner of the net to level the scores before the break. The visitors went to halftime still level by surviving a fruitless Voltes backlash led by Satoshi Otomo.

A cagey second half followed as neither team wanted to concede a costly second goal. JPV produced most of the chances to break the deadlock with the Ilocanos reliant on veteran Baba Sampana to lead the line at the back. Their resolute defending provided the path towards a sweet triumph as they were not content in leaving Laguna with just another point.

For them to do just that they needed and their goal and for a team that doesn’t average more than two goals in three games, it looked like a tall task. The odds may have been stacked against them but Ilocos United dug deep and found themselves in front with eight minutes ago. Kennedy Uzoka finished a great counter attacking play and made a finish decent enough to punish Nelson Gasic Jr. and company.

While they certainly tried, Voltes failed to salvage a point and have the unfortunate distinction of becoming the first team to lose against Ilocos United. What hurts more is that this would likely bite them back in their pursuit of a playoff spot. If they are to recover from this, they need to get a positive result as soon as possible. A two-week break may just do the trick as JPV have no upcoming matches before the international break.

Second half Kaya-Makati blitz smashes dazzling Stallion-Laguna run

Kaya-Makati turned up the heat in their clash with Stallion-Laguna who swallowed a bitter pill at full time as the men in yellow triumphed against the Laguna side with the score of 4-0 Saturday afternoon at the UMak Football Field.

Prior to the meeting, Stallion-Laguna made a steady rise to the standings, eventually gaining ground on the playoff-chasing pack. Kaya, on the other hand, had an August to forget. The team coached by Noel Marcaida only won one out of their seven games which came from then winless Ilocos United. As the two teams locked horns, playoff implications hung on the balance.

The two teams were inseparable in the first 60 minutes but it was a different story altogether after the hour mark. Scoring only one goal in their last three outings, Kaya’s push for a breakthrough paid dividends and more. In the 61st minute, Jordan Mintah connected with Robert Lopez Mendy to finally unlock Stallion’s a compact defense. The Ghanaian netted against his former employers to cut celebrations in Makati.

It started to unravel there for Stallion-Laguna as an unwanted moment was abruptly succeeded by another. Fresh off the bench, Miguel Tanton made his first appearance since recovering from injury. It did not take him long to make an impact as his audacious attempt right after kickoff breached Stallion’s goal to instantly double Kaya’s advantage.

Mintah deflated the morale of Stallion in the 67th minute as he added another one to make it three. Holding an unassailable lead, Kaya only saw it grow as a clinical finish by Eric Ben Giganto six minutes before time capped off a glorious second half for the 2015 UFL Cup winners.

Perhaps the result was a harsh one for Stallion who remain in sixth and now three points off the playoff spots. They have a home match against Davao Aguilas to look forward to this weekend.

Stephan Schröck shines as Ceres-Negros blanks Global-Cebu anew

Stephan Schröck reminded everyone Sunday afternoon at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod just how good he still is as his 79th minute stunner allowed Ceres-Negros to sink their Visayan rivals Global-Cebu, 1-0.

The former Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim cog blasted a screamer from around 35 yards, leaving his Azkals teammate Patrick Deyto with no chance of stopping the rocket-like better.

Prior to the Bundesliga veteran’s vicious strike, there was little that separated the hosts from the visitors. The two teams excitingly kept each other on their toes, with the Negrenses just edging the Cebuanos in the number of chances created.

Global suffered a huge blow early in the game when Akbar Nawas was forced to bring Misagh Bahadoran out after the Azkal suffered a horrifying injury from a fall. It came amidst a juggernaut of Ceres-Negros attacks which made it more challenging for them to deal with the skipper’s absence.

Yet it looked to have galvanized Global more than it would have deflated them. Paolo Salenga was on the end of two glorious opportunities, both of which he was unable to convert from. His team would’ve come to rue those chances if Super Herrera’s penalty claim didn’t fall on deaf ears. The defender fell on Wesley dos Santos’ challenge inside the box but the officials didn’t see anything wrong about it.

After a scoreless first half, both teams continued to test each other beginning with Global’s promising start to the second half. Bugas, who took the place of Bahadoran, was on the end of both but he wasn’t able to apply the desired finish past Roland Müller.

On the other side of the pitch, Patrick Deyto had little to do in the first 50 minutes of the game. All that changed in the last 40 as Ceres ignited a series of dangerous attacks. One that nearly resulted in a goal came in the 74th minute when Fernando Rodriguez just diverted a good cross from Schröck a few inches over the bar.

Looking like it would finish a draw and of the goalless kind, both teams knew it would take something really special to win this game. Up step Schröck whose thundering strike found the top corner, enough for Ceres-Negros to pocket a 1-0 win. It’s the third time in as many games in this matchup that the home team has won by this margin.

The result comes at an important time for Negros as they close in on Global with five more games in hand. They are only behind two and remain on track of surpassing league leaders Meralco Manila should they win all those rescheduled matches. Up next for Risto Vidakovic’s men is a home match against overjoyedIlocos United.

Meralco-Manila’s surge continues by keeping Davao Aguilas winless

Even after the high-profile transfer of Younghusband brothers James and Phil, the fortunes of both Meralco-Manila and Davao Aguilas remain similar as the former server up a 2-0 victory at the expense of the latter Saturday evening at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

Meralco remained strong after the Younghusbands’ departure and they showed it on the night against the brothers’ new team. They won four of their seven matches, drawing the other two since their marquee names left for Davao and were successful in prolonging the unbeaten streak to seven with only Global handing them a loss in the post-Younghusbands era.

The first half saw few attempts by both to break the deadlock as keepers Marko Trkulja and Junjun Badelic stayed on top of things. The second period was more frantic as the game gradually opened up. A Matthew Hartmann strike forced a great save from Sparks shot stopper Badelic who stayed sharp unlike his opposite number.

Trkulja couldn’t do a thing to stop Meralco’s Tahj Minniecon from putting the hosts in front as the Australian forward sublimely finished in the 52nd minute. Alvin Sarmiento almost followed suit but he was unfortunate in finding the target.

The Meralco defense anchored by Joaco Cañas did amazingly well to nullify the threat posed by their former teammates. Manila coach Aris Caslib shared after the game, saying: “Our plan was that when Phil and James will get the ball, we would double-team them. That’s why there were so many orange shirts around them whenever they received the ball.”

It proved to be a vital difference as the Aguilas remain without a win despite splurging big in the transfer window. They were still in the match until the 83rd minute when Jake Morallo claimed an insurance goal to tighten Meralco’s a control of top spot.

Another win, Meralco’s sixth, puts them in a good position when they meet rivals Kaya on Saturday. As the race for playoff spots continue, expect the battle between the two Metro Manila clubs to be a feisty one.



Iain Ramsay hattrick powers Ceres-Negros to inaugural PFL title



Photo from Stephen Tan/Ceres Media

Ultimately, there was no other local team that deserved to be crowned the 2017 Philippines Football League champions more than Ceres Negros Football Club.

Months after being crowned as the best ASEAN team in the 2017 AFC Cup, Ceres seized the 2017 PFL title with a 4-1 victory over Visayas rivals Global Cebu at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.

Ceres’ championship was as good as sealed right from the get-go, as the Busmen commanded a 3-0 lead by halftime. Iain Ramsay was a force to be reckoned with as he had a hand in all three Negros goals.

Ramsay spotted an expectant Bienvenido Marañon in the Global box, and the latter calmly put the ball past opposing goalie Patrick Deyto to give Ceres a 1-0 lead after just four minutes.

Global tried to retaliate soon enough, and should have scored at least once when Rufo Sanchez was denied by the crossbar and Pika Minegishi’s free kick was saved by Ceres goalie Roland Muller.

Global’s failure to put the ball at the back of the net cost them dearly. A swift counterattack allowed Ramsay to get his first goal in the 20th minute, and the Filipino-Australian made good use of a Junior Muñoz pass to triple Ceres’ lead seven minutes later.

The title was already a formality for Ceres at halftime. Risto Vidakovic and his men were 45 minutes away from sweet redemption, as they had failed to win the 2016 United Football League and 2016 UFL Cup — both won by Global.

Ceres’ icing on the cake came in the 61st minute when Ramsay got his hattrick goal following another clever play by the Busmen. With the result done and dusted, Global got themselves a consolation goal two minutes from time thanks to Darryl Roberts.

Come the final whistle, Ceres proved to be worthy 4-1 victors over a defensively-suspect Global to be the first PFL winners.

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Meralco routs Kaya to salvage bronze



Photo from FC Meralco-Manila

With pride and a possible 2018 AFC Cup playoff berth at stake, it was the inaugural Philippines Football League regular season-leaders FC Meralco Manila who prevailed.

Three goals, all in the first half, were enough for the home side to walk away with the consolation bronze past Kaya FC-Makati, 3-1, Friday evening at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.

After absorbing an early pressure from the visitors, the Sparks went to their team offense to break the deadlock, resulting in an early goal.

Skipper Simon Greatwich received a good delivery from outside and headed the ball into the penalty area. Fortunately for the former Azkals midfielder, Joaco Cañas was there to head the ball into the goal for the opener.

Kaya seemed unperturbed by the score and tried to restore parity. Nonetheless, Manila’s defense disrupted deliveries intended primarily for Robert Lopez-Mendy. Moreover, balls deep into the Sparks’ goal went straight to the hands of keeper Ace Villanueva.

It was not long before Meralco doubled their lead, thanks to Azkal Curt Dizon.

Twelve minutes after the Canas goal, the crafty winger — who has taken over the scoring cudgels for Meralco with the departures of Phil and James Younghusband — found himself virtually unmarked on the left flank and fired a cannonball at the edge of the box for the home team’s second of the night.

Dizon then virtually put the game out of reach in the 25th minute, finishing a spectacular free kick with a left-footed strike past Kayo goalie Ref Cuaresma.

Chances were scarce after that onslaught, as Meralco’s organized defending stood its ground, denying a possible goal back from Kaya.

This continued well into the following period, but the insertion of Joven Bedic and Marvin Angeles worked for Kaya at the start of the second half.

With few chances on the build up, the visitors took their opportunity at set pieces. In the 58th minute, Bedic tapped in a low cross past Villanueva to pull one back.

The goal is something Manila head coach Aris Caslib foresaw and lamented. “In the second half, the players were cautious, never wanting what happened in the semifinals to happen again.”

However, what the Sparks lost in offensive fluidity, they still atoned for in defensive consistency. If not for that strong resistance, Kaya could have extended the match.

Instead, the Meralco defense held and it was an impressive win for them to finish an emotional season after the 90 minutes.

“It was the character of the team that showed up. While we struggled in that latter part, we were able to overcome,” Caslib remarked about the Sparks.

For the former national team mentor, it was the squad’s determination to end the season with a win that carried them through. He said, “A big part of this is the players wanted to get over that hump; and they were able to push it in the end.”

FC Meralco Manila might still get a 2018 AFC Cup playoff berth if the PFL champions go on to clinch a 2018 AFC Champions League slot.

The PFL Final between Ceres-Negros FC and Global-Cebu FC will happen on Saturday evening at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City.

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



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



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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