“In a Semifinal or Final, (may it be a) stronger or weaker team, the one who wins is the one who wanted it more,” Ceres-La Salle FC Head Coach Ali Go exclaimed.
In a game for the ages, it was the 2015 United Football League champions Ceres-La Salle FC edged out the defending UFL Cup titlists Kaya FC after 120 minutes of action and a penalty shootout, 3-3 after extra time (8-7 penalty shootout), to move on to the 2016 United Football League Cup Final, Wednesday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila City.
With both teams smarting from their recent 2016 AFC Cup assignments, Ceres-La Salle and Kaya started the highly anticipated match with guns blazing. After Kaya FC almost broke into the scoreboard with an accidental handball, Patrick Reichelt was able to swiftly made amends. During the eighth minute, Martin Steuble found his former Azkals teammate in the middle and Reichelt blasted the ball into the goal for the lead.
Kaya then attempted to retaliate after the restart but Joven Bedic missed on his attempt off a delivery from Kenshiro Daniels. Ceres was not yet relieved of the pressure from Kaya as OJ Porteria intercepted a pass from the back. The striker calmly sank the ball into the onion bag for the equalizer four minutes later.
Nevertheless, the score line would last for only two minutes. Last year’s Golden Boot awardee Adrian Gallardo made a run into the penalty area and outsmarted Kaya keeper Michael Acton to restore the advantage for Ceres.
Kaya once more tried to push the equalizer, only for their initial attempt coming from a Daniels free kick was wasted. Fortunately for them, Porteria was again at the right place at the right time. Ceres Team Captain Juani Guirado attempted to clear the ball off Robert Lopez-Mendy. It went as far as Porteria who then blasted the ball past Michael Louis Casas to put the match on level terms once more at the 20th minute.
Both sides’ defense went to work after that eventful start at the period as both sides went busy denying their opponents the go-ahead goal. At the 36th minute, the silence was broken as Ceres-La Salle regained the lead once more. Steuble again took an ensuing free kick and whipped the ball into the box to Carli De Murga. De Murga calmly headed the ball for the 3-2 halftime lead.
At the start of the second half, Ceres and Kaya had their chances to change the scoreboard but the opposing defense stood their ground. After one hour in the match, and as the game intensified, Kaya went down to ten men with Jovin Bedic being sent off after a dangerous tackle on Manny Ott.
Kaya then doubled their efforts with the man-disadvantage and found the third equalizer at the 72nd minute. Substitute Louis Clark received a well-timed cross from Lopez-Mendy from the right and nodded the ball past Casas for the tying shot.
Porteria then almost scored a hattrick three minutes after the Clark goal: only his shot was deflected to the side netting. The ensuing corner was for naught as Lopez-Mendy this time could not convert.
Ceres would launch their own attempt of taking the win after fielding in Azkals midfielder Stephan Schröck into the pitch. However, Kaya’s defense did not back down against the repeated attempts of Ceres in the dying minutes and forced the game to extra time.
During the extension, both Ceres and Kaya attempted for a deliberate approach on attack. Gallardo attempted to gain the lead for Ceres at the 108th minute but his attempt went far wide. On the other hand, another attempt from Porteria for Kaya four minutes after failed to graze the bar as spot kicks beckoned. After more than two hours of game time, the game went into a penalty shootout.
At the shootout, both teams were still level after six takers each. Janrick Soriano attempted to put Kaya in the lead once more, only Casas guessed right and collected that ball for his first save of the shootout. Steuble could have sent Ceres into the Final if only his shot went into the goal instead of the post. After Masanari Omura and Kim Sang Min scored for Kaya and Ceres respectively, Casas was able to deny Anton Ugarte and set up his captain Guirado to take the win. Guirado composedly blasted the ball to Acton’s right side and sent his team to the UFL Cup Final.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MATCH
After the match, Ceres Head Coach Go praised both his team and their opponents, Kaya, for a wonderful game. He was pleased that his boys fought hard up to the penalty shootout and agreed that this will be a boost in their ongoing AFC Cup campaign. Go, however, shared that, “We would still need to work on our defense. If our defense would be like that against Tampines (Rovers), we’re in trouble.”
The two teams will return on April 16 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium for the UFL Cup. Kaya will face Stallion at the 5:15 pm third-place playoff, while Ceres will battle against Global for the Cup title and the 2017 AFC Cup berth at 8:30pm.
AFC Cup 2016 update
Both Ceres-La Salle FC and Kaya FC head into the following week, particularly on April 12, with AFC Cup matches at hand. Ceres takes on Singaporean side Tampines Rovers in Panaad Stadium in Bacolod at 7:30pm, while Kaya looks to sweep the other Singapore side Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore also at 7:30pm.
Photo courtesy of Mark Cristino/UFL