Joven Benitez, Luisito Brillantes, and Lauren Bedua got on the scoresheet as Army kicked off the UFL Cup 2015 Group Stage action by hammering non-league outfit Bright Star FC, 4-1, earlier this afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. Three of the four goals scored by the UFL Division I squad came in response of an equalizer scored by Bright Star with under 30 minutes to go.
It was back and forth play in the first five minutes with neither team able to break past opposing defenses in the said period. Army got the ball rolling when Brillantes’ corner reached Eduardo Gempisaw Jr. whose shot was blocked. The ball then fell to the path of Benitez only to see his shot saved by the Bright Star goalkeeper Valentino Tolentino. Not long after, Bright Star had two decent looks on goal. The first one came at the sixth minute when Alessandro Esposito’s shot was saved comfortably by Wilson Muñoz. A minute later, the other opportunity was presented to the non-league side courtesy of Mohamed Camara but the Army keeper got to read the direction of his shot.
Soon, Army started to control the game’s tempo with the help of short, accurate passing that prevented their foes from initiating any quick counterattacks. Romano Vestal found Benitez whom he fed the ball with a through ball, but Tolentino parried the ball away for a corner. Nine minutes into the match, Brillantes got to shoot the ball but could not keep it down. Nestorio Margarse Jr. joined the attacking barrage but his free kick was cleared away from play. The Armed Forces’ perseverance was unwavering and for that they earned a deserved reward at the 13th minute of play. Vestal crossed the ball to Brillantes, who instinctively slammed the ball into the back of the net to put Army ahead by a goal.
Bright Star attempted to respond right away, but Mathurin Yao and Bile Stephane Bkou could not find a way past Muñoz. On the other side, the trailing team appreciated custodian Tolentino’s efforts of keeping out Brillantes’ shots to sustain the slim deficit they were facing. Another guy they were thankful for was Guy Elovna, who intercepted Vestal’s pass to the unmarked Brillantes inside the box at the 24th minute. A water break was ordered at the next minute for both teams’ players to rehydrate in the midst of the blistering Manila heat.
When play resumed, Army continued to dominate the match by drilling chance after chance against Bright Star. If not for Tolentino’s good positioning, Army may have scored more goals before the interval. Amongst the several futile chances Army had came a gem of a chance for Bright Star to level the score at halftime. Moustapha Diarra saw Yao racing down the right flank but the deflected pass came with too much bounce, which led to an overhit strike from Yao. At halftime, Army held a precarious 1-0 lead.
Both teams played the opening ten minutes of the second half quite defensively. Bright Star had more touches to the ball but were often derailed in the final third by Army’s pesky defending. Alessandro Esposito forced a save from Muñoz at the 55th minute while teammate Diarra dribbled well to dance around the Army defense six minutes later, only for his effort to sail wide. After Diarra’s miscue, Bright Star’s spirits were lifted by Adakole Adams. The substitute used pace to gain space inside the box before slotting the ball past Muñoz to level the score with 28 minutes plus added time remaining.
Just when it seemed that Bright Star will play for all the points en route to the final whistle, Army suddenly had a scoring spree that buried Adams’ equalizer. Just a minute after the game-tying goal, Benitez punished the Bright Star defense for committing a defensive lapse by easily putting the ball into the unguarded net to regain Army’s lead. At the 72nd minute, Benitez scored again. This time around, he scored a more difficult one by looping the ball from outside the box into the back of the net to make it 3-1. With only two minutes to go, Army fortified their goal difference with Bedua completing an attacking sequence involving Erwin Silvestre and Elmo Pabilona Jr. down the left wing.
Army Coach Ricky Cain was delighted with the way his new-look team played at the start of the UFL Cup. “Happy kami dahil ngayon lang ako nakabuo na All-Filipino ‘yung team,” Cain stated proudly. He disclosed that the team recently dropped their Korean players prior to the start of the group stage. In their next matches, Cain is looking towards improving the finishing of his players, who may have scored more than four goals against their opponents.
Bright Star FC’s Liberian Coach Pierre Collins, meanwhile, expressed dismay but points no blame to anyone but himself. “There were also mistakes on my part. I came in late so I had players I’m not supposed to use [playing],” he shared. Another concern Collins is looking to sort out is the chemistry of his defenders. “Our defenders are not working together. They did not each understand each other,” he observed. In spite of the outcome of their first game, Collins remains optimistic of his team’s chances to progress into the quarter finals. “I believe that we’ll be qualifying,” he assured.
Army will look to make it two wins in a row when they square off current UFL Division I leaders Ceres La Salle FC on Tuesday at 6:15 PM. After that game, Bright Star will hope to grab win number one when they take on Green Archers United at 8:30 PM. Both games will be played, as all UFL games are, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.