Ceres-La Salle notched win number 14 in the nearly-concluded United Football League 2015 season after beating Stallion FC, 2-1, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. Azkal standouts Patrick Reichelt and Juani Guirado delivered the goals for the league winners while Thomert Nana of Stallion denied them a clean sheet by finding the net in the last minute of the encounter.
The match began quite casually with both teams not able to deal damage to each other’s defense. After a while, Emmanuel Mbata and Jordan Mintah nearly produced a score change inside the affair’s first six minutes. The former fed Mintah the ball nicely but the striker was not able to get a meaningful touch on the ball. Moments later, the 2015 league champions took their turn up front. Marwin Angeles and Reichelt sniffed three chances to test the Stallion defense. Unfortunately, they were not able to hit the target.
Entering the 15th minute mark, Stallion was denied by Ceres-La Salle goalkeeper Ed Sacapaño. The Negrense goalkeeper judged Simone Rota’s free kick well by tipping the ball over to safety. At that moment, Stallion looked fluid in the attack, often forcing their opponents to play behind the ball. Afterwards, momentum shifted gradually in favor of Ceres-La Salle. Lee Jeong Woo teed up Bienvenido Marañon with the striker only having Johann Noetzel between him and the goal. Unfortunately for the Spanish target man, his ball drifted away from the goal instead of going in. Shortly, Jeffrey Christiaens tested the Stallion goalkeeper in between the sticks with a superb effort kept out for a corner.
Chances kept coming for both sides as time went on. A Jeffrey Christiaens corner at the 19th minute nearly produced a game-changing moment when Reichelt latched on to it, but saw his effort blocked. Four minutes later, Stallion’s Nathan Alquiros drilled in a cross towards Mintah whose header from inside the box went wide to the left. A more serious effort came three minutes before the 30th minute mark. Mbata had a clean look on goal but Sacapaño kept his nerve with a routine save.
With the match still level going into the latter third of the first period, a goal coming either way will surely make a huge impact to both coaches’ changing room talks. For much of the contest, Reichelt was involved in Ceres-La Salle’s exploits. The Filipino-German winger came close once more to breaking the deadlock 15 minutes before the break. He got room to work with the ball Noetzel, however, urgently interrupted him. There was nothing the Stallion keeper can do about four minutes afterwards when Christiaens located Reichelt via a cross to finally seize the initiative for Ceres-La Salle.
Eager to draw level right away, Stallion was presented a chance at the 38th minute. Mintah displayed his creativity by shrugging three Ceres-La Salle defenders. The forward was unlucky nonetheless as his attempt went straight to Ruben Doctora rather than the onion bag. In a strategic position, Doctora could have easily finished the chance himself but the sudden arrival of the ball to him caught him unprepared. Instead, he opted to send it into the middle where Rota was. The utility man slightly made contact with the ball before it was safely cleared by Ceres-La Salle. Halftime came with the champions ahead by a goal to nil.
Eight minutes after the restart, Stallion earned a penalty that gave them a chance to level matters again. Mintah was impeded by Sacapaño, prompting referee Ariel Montaña to point to the spot. Rota stepped up to the occasion and hit his strike from 12 yards on target. It did not alter the score, however, as Sacapaño held on to the ball. A minute over the hour mark, Doctora again had an opportunity to tie the game but his shot was off target. The wards of Coach Ernie Nierras may have well rued their miscues in front of goal after witnessing their foes come up again with a goal. Off a free kick, Guirado towered above everyone else to cushion his team’s lead.
Ali Go appraised his team’s opponents well and even suggested that Stallion looked more motivated than his players but that seemed insufficient to put his team down. “Stallion played well. They played their hearts out. I think they’re motivated than us supposedly but I think the boys want to win all our remaining games,” he commented after the match. The Ceres gaffer also shared that the team came off a rewarding trip to Boracay just days before to celebrate their league triumph. The trip resulted in sitting out some of his best players while also making room for some of his players to see action on the field.
On the other hand, Nierras was pleased with his team’s performance despite the loss. He thought that luck was simply not on their side. His team had a few good chances not put to bed, including that early second-half spot kick that could have gotten them back level. “The guys played well. We had the opportunities but we just couldn’t finish. What can I say, that’s why they’re [Ceres-La Salle] champions. I have to now wait with what happens with our game on Wednesday and our protest,” he uttered. The protest he talked about refers to Global fielding an ineligible player in some of their matches in the season. The Stallion boss believes that second place is still undecided and his squad still has what it takes to finish there should things fell their way.
At that point on, Stallion had a mountain to climb. A shortage in clear cut chances even made the challenge far more difficult. Most of the time, they only had to do with free kicks which did not seem to bother the tight Negrense defense. Rota and Mintah got through into the box but timely intervention by the Ceres-La Salle defenders stopped them from scoring.
Fortunately for them, they managed to contain Ceres-La Salle’s aggressiveness. Their defensive performance after going two-nil down was noteworthy. Only a harmless free kick from Steuble came past the men in black and fuchsia. A goal from Stallion substitute Nana right at the end did little to change the mood of the night when once again, Ceres-La Salle added one to their impressive collection of victories in the league.
Whatever the decision of the UFL will be regarding his protest, he knows that the team still needs to beat Pachanga-Diliman on Wednesday. The champions, Ceres-La Salle, will also conclude their season on the same day when they face a pesky team in Manila Jeepney FC. –LGT
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