League leaders Global F.C. widened their lead at the top of the United Football League table, while the Loyola Meralco Sparks leapfrogged two teams with a crucial win in yesterday’s action at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Global took on mid-table team Green Archers United, whom they defeated 3-1. As for Loyola, they emerged victorious in a pivotal tussle with JP Voltes, 3-2, to move above them and Ceres-La Salle in the standings.
The 2016 UFL Cup champions got off to a blazing start, with a goal coming less than a minute after kickoff. Hikaru Minegishi caught the Archers’ defense off-guard to make sure his team enjoyed an early taste of the lead. GAU tried to respond but found it difficult, as they also had to exercise enough caution to keep the score close.
Azkals legend Chieffy Caligdong spearheaded the occasional charge for the Archers, who then spent most of their time fending off the Global barrage. Try as they might, the Archers were outclassed and it only looked like a matter of time for Global to get their second of the day. The resistance lasted for 34 minutes before Global’s Arthur Kouassi nodded home Matthew Hartmann’s free kick to double the two-time champions’ lead. It stayed that way going into the break.
Early in the second half, the Archers were rewarded for their immediate pursuit of a goal. Just two minutes in, Reynald Villarreal won a precious spot kick for GAU as a result of Dennis Villanueva’s errant challenge inside the box. Caligdong blasted the penalty kick beyond Patrick Deyto’s reach to pull one back for the Archers.
The comeback was on, but not for long, as Villanueva made amends for his error by converting Misagh Bahadoran’s cross to restore Global’s two-goal cushion at the hour mark. That was the last goal in the match, as Global sealed a victory that put them well ahead of everyone else in the league. The win gave them a then-nine (now seven) point lead over their nearest rivals with only seven games left.
UFL fans in attendance surely enjoyed the Sunday afternoon action as the second game offered a more entertaining match when Loyola squared off against JP Voltes. Entering the contest, Voltes had a one-point edge over Loyola with both teams keen to finish at least in the top two.
If there was a suggestion of who would follow Global early on, it was Loyola. The Sparks drew first blood in an eerily similar way to how Global did. Just in the second minute, Tahj Minniecon put his team in front to set the fast pace of the match.
Not to be outdone, Voltes conjured up a response 10 minutes after. Allen Angeles got the final touch in a set piece that began from Yu Hoshide. The captain’s delivery was then nodded by John Celiz towards the goalscorer. Getting themselves back to the game seemed insufficient for JP Voltes as they seized the initiative in the 21st minute. Loyola goalkeeper Guillherme Hasegawa was helpless when J Baguioro slotted the rebound off a saved attempt by Yuta Nakagaito.
Looking to restore parity, Loyola’s players up front, Phil and James Younghusband, together with Koichi Belgira and Minniecon, worked their way fruitlessly around the stubborn JP Voltes defense. Their struggle to equalize was evident and despite their inability to take their chances, they were fortunate the gap remained narrow. It could have even grown wider if not for Celiz’s failure to pad his team’s advantage. Up 2-1 at the break, JP Voltes were looking to hang on to a huge victory.
Loyola played with more hunger come the second half and their relentless siege paid off 10 minutes into the half. JP Voltes shotstopper Nelson Gasic paved the way for a Loyola comeback as his challenge on Joaco Cañas won the Sparks a penalty, which was coolly finished by Phil Younghusband. The Azkals’ all-time leading scorer nearly got his second in the 64th minute, but Gasic managed to parry his intelligent chip away.
Playing with more confidence after netting the equalizer, Loyola pushed harder for a third goal that in the circumstances would have been enough to take all the points in the compelling affair. And so they did, in the 74th minute, courtesy of Belgira, who met Simon Greatwich’s through ball into the box.
Desperate to salvage a point, Voltes couldn’t manage to breach Hasegawa once more as the Sparks goalkeeper stood his ground to preserve Loyola’s second lead. Loyola held on to a thrilling 3-2 victory that allows them to overtake JP Voltes and Ceres-La Salle in the standings. They are now in second place, seven behind Global.
Photos and Videos by Jojo Lirio Jr. / Smile-Eight Photography