In a one-off match, every goal counts.
That turned out to be the case as Abou Sy’s early goal proved the difference as Stallion-Laguna fended off the debuting Dynamic Herb Cebu, 1-0, to take the top seed in the 2021 Copa Paulino Alcantara’s Group A, Wednesday at the PFF Training Center in Carmona, Cavite.
With all to play for, the match started with end-to-end action with both teams sharing the possession quite evenly. The intensity of the match picked up with every tackle, but a vicious one on Stallion’s Kim Sungmin turned it up higher.
Despite having a man down, Stallion played on through the chaos and eventually took the go-ahead goal with a scrappy shot from Senegalese forward Abou Sy. The African reinforcement made it past two defenders and tapped the ball off the hands of Cebu goalkeeper Ace Villanueva.
The two clubs settled down from a very high tempo match and the PFL debutants also had their chances to equalize late in the period. Nonetheless, the Stallion defense stifled an opportunity from Daniel Gadia, and then covered a pass from Evren Tasci intended for Kintaro Miyagi.
Thus, the pink-shirts made sure to go into halftime with the slimmest of margins.
Cebu took the very first chance of the second with veteran Roberto Corsame Jr, only his run to the box went begging for the equalizer.
Tensions reached fever pitch when Joaco Canas and Yannick Tuason, who both played for Maharlika Manila FC, went into some verbal altercation just a minute after the hour mark, with players and match officials needing to separate the two. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, but Renz Saldivar and Tuason found themselves booked.
Nonetheless, it was a turning point when Tuason found himself sent off after a foul from behind against Corsame in the 71st minute.
Stallion, however, proved too much to the league’s newest club when they turned into their compact defense to prevent any late equalizer from Cebu.
Coach Ernie Nierras emphasized these adjustments as they were at the back foot for most of the late part of the match. “I knew this would be a tough game, but the guys played really well,” the long-time mentor said.
“We made the adjustments that we had to do to prevent Cebu from scoring. We played a man down for like 25 minutes, so the adjustments that we made prevented them. And that’s what’s the important thing to do right now, win the first game,” he continued.
By virtue of the group win, Stallion (1-0-0; 3 points) will wait for the winner of the match between the Azkals Development Team and the Mendiola 1991 (both in 0 points) for their semifinal opponents.
On the other hand, Cebu (0-0-1; 0 points) will have their hands full against AFC Champions League campaigners Kaya FC (2-0-0; 6 points) in the other semifinal match.
Stallion Laguna XI – Pepito (GK), Ebarle, Nierras, Silva, Alquiros, Sy, McDaniel, Placito, Kim, Belgira, Tuason.
Dynamic Herb Cebu XI – Tasci E. (C), Villanueva (GK), Canas, Sendra, Miyagi, Tasci B., Gadia, Saldivar, Dabao III, Cordova, Corsame Jr.