When the clock strikes at 12:00 AM on January 1, 2019, Filipino sports fans will remember the heartbreaks and triumphs that engulfed Philippine football in 2018. Here are some of the big talking points form the year that has gone by.
Filipinas make headway in international competitions
The Philippine Women’s National Football Team achieved a milestone in the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan last April when it clinched its first win in the competition after beating the host nation 2-1 thanks to Sarina Bolden’s strike.
It would figure to be their only win at the tournament, but it was enough to get the team to finish sixth out of eight teams, just one spot shy of qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
A few months later, the Filipinas competed in the 2018 AFF Women’s Championship in Indonesia but failed to get out of the group stage in a tough draw that contained the likes of Vietnam and Myanmar.
However, the squad recuperated and performed better in the first round of the 2020 AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament last November. Shelah Mae Cadag was the breakout star with seven goals on her international debut, her tournament tally bested only by one other player for the entire round composed of twenty teams from all over Asia.
Cadag helped the Malditas beat the likes of Singapore, Tajikistan and Mongolia before succumbing to Chinese Taipei, yet it was more than enough to secure passage to the second round of qualifiers which will take place in April next year.
The senior women’s team were not the only ones to impress this year. The U-16 girls team also made headlines when they qualified to the next round of the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship with dramatic wins over hosts Nepal and Malaysia. Round two will take the team to Myanmar in February next year against tougher opponents including the hosts, China and Bangladesh.
UP, DLSU, CSB reign supreme in the collegiate scene
In terms of dominance, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons showed that they were always one step ahead of their competition in the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Football Tournament with an undefeated record.
That milestone was then rewarded with the championship itself when Ian Clarino, Season 80 MVP, scored the solitary goal to down his high school alma mater University of Santo Tomas to seal the State U’s 18th UAAP football crown.
“This bunch of boys are inspirational. From the first player to the last player, yung motivation, yung drive, yung selflessness, you cannot ask for anything more if you’re the coach,” commented UP mentor Anto Gonzales after his side clinched their second title in three years.
On the other side of the coin, the De La Salle University Lady Archers had to conquer adversity to win the UAAP Season 80 Women’s Football Championship and accomplish a first successful title defense since Season 68.
La Salle was up against a tough University of Santo Tomas Lady Booters team who went through the elimination round unscathed. In fact, UST trashed La Salle 5-2 in their second elimination round meeting to strike a blow to the Lasallians’ confidence.
But enter Kyla Inquig. In her final game for the Green and White, the veteran striker scored a brace to seal the deal for coach Hans-Peter Smit’s wards.
“We were the underdogs. The best way was to play with our heads. And it worked,” said Smit. “The girls showed true character on playing in pain. They have been in pain for so long. But they wanted to get this game.“
It was a similar tale for La Salle and UST in the 2018 PFF Women’s League where the former pegged the latter to successfully defend the title led by MVP Chelo Hodges..
Of significant note from this year’s edition of the PFFWL is Tuloy FC’s Isabella Bandoja where the 17-year-old broke goal-scoring records in game (11) and in season (22) prompting for calls to the national team.
Perhaps the biggest collegiate football story, though, was the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde Blazers who ended and eight-year title drought after they won the NCAA Season 93 Football Championship.
The Blazers eliminated the San Beda Red Lions in the Final Four and went up against the Arellano University Chiefs in a best-of-three series to win the title. Arellano drew first blood in the big dance but the Blazers managed to win game two and game three, both of which were achieved via penalty shoot-outs, courtesy of goalkeeper Jake Vicen’s clutch saves.
“Binuhos lang namin every minute sa training. Luckily, hard work paid off,” declared Vicen.
Ceres fails to defend AFC Cup Zonal title; Kaya returns to the continental dance
Ceres-Negros Football Club once again became the benchmark for Philippine football in the professional club picture after the team won the 2018 Philippines Football League title. The Bacolod-based club emerged victorious with 60 points after 19 wins and three losses and draws.
However, they failed to retain their status as AFC Cup Zonal Champions for South East Asia. After they exited the preliminary stages of the 2018 AFC Champions League, the Busmen made it all the way to the Zonal Finals where they went against Singapore’s Home United for the second successive year.
Lightning did not strike twice, though, and Home United were the victors this time around as it won 3-1 on aggregate.
One club, however, that had a climactic end to its season was Kaya-Iloilo Football Club. Noel Marcaida’s men finished at 2nd place in the 2018 PFL season with 49 points and they used that momentum in the 2018 Copa Paulino Alcantara.
Kaya went up against powerhouse team Davao Aguilas in the final of the tournament with qualification to the 2019 AFC Cup also at stake. After a tense 90 minutes, Jovin Bedic struck late in extra time to win Kaya its first trophy since 2015 and seal a flight to the continental stage.
“What makes it special for this finals aside from we wanted to go to back AFC, we were able to give honor to the legendary Paulino Alcantara because as we have known Paulino Alcantara is from Concepcion, Iloilo and as representative of Iloilo, this cup really matters for us, so we’re successful, it was a really great 2018,” said Marcaida.
Neil Etheridge becomes a Premier League star
Neil Etheridge, one of the heroes of the Miracle of Hanoi in 2010 and the Philippines’ main goalkeeper, because a bonafide English Premier League standout with Cardiff City.
Etheridge achieved promotion with Cardiff to the Premier League after the Welsh club finished at 2nd place in the 2017-2018 English Championship season. This year, though, in the Premier League, the 28-year-old produced three penalty saves as his team currently sits at 16th place in the league table, two points above the relegation zone.
But the biggest downside to Etheridge’s newfound success is his absence in the Philippines’ maiden campaign in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup as it will take place while Cardiff’s season is ongoing.
“He’s had a great season and he’s learning all the time,” said Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock who added, “I spoke to Sven(-Goran Eriksson). I would’ve been happy with it whatever, but he was really forthcoming. He said ‘Neil knows how important it is for you and the club and I respect that’.”
Azkals endure roller coaster year
The highest point of which came on March 27, 2018. Inside the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, the Azkals qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup for the first time in the country’s history with a 2-1 victory over Tajikistan.
Phil Younghusband’s 50th international goal, a spot-kick, sealed qualification but it was Kevin Ingreso who was the biggest story in that game.
The Filipino-German player clumsily fouled Tajikistan’s Nuriddin Davronov in the Philippines’ box and the resulting penalty was converted by Nazarov Akhtam at the 64th minute. Despite the personal setback, the 25-year-old redeemed himself later at the 73rd minute when he headed home Iain Ramsey’s cross.
“I can’t describe my feelings. It takes a few weeks to let it sink [in and] to believe what we actually achieved and I think we deserve it. When you see the 90 minutes we totally deserved the win today, [especially] the way we fought,” said Ingreso.
That match also marked the last time Thomas Dooley sat on the becn as the team’s mentor. He was originally replaced by English legend Terry Butcher who backed out of the role and left former Muangthong United coach Scott Cooper in charge before renowned manager Sven-Goran Eriksson took charge last October.
With Eriksson in charge, the returned to the semi-finals in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup but that ticket towards the final remained elusive. In a campaign that was marked by players leaving to fulfill club duty and injuries, the Azkals were defeated by eventual champions Vietnam in the semi-finals 2-4 on aggregate.
The real acid test for the former England manager’s reign comes early in 2019 where the Azkals hope to produce a fine showing in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in UAE.