Kaya FC pulled through after 120 minutes and a penalty shootout to dispatch League Champions Ceres-La Salle, 2-2 after extra time (4-2 on penalties), and clinched the coveted 2015 United Football League (UFL) Cup title, Friday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Kaya started the match like a team on a mission and producing early chances to score while Ceres-La Salle fortified their defense and denied Kaya’s opportunities. At the sixth minute, Chris Greatwich found Golden Boot frontrunner Tishan Hanley on the right wing. The Kittian national shot from long range, but Ceres keeper Louie Casas was able to save the ball. Six minutes after, a foul was called on the visitors and Greatwich took the ensuing free kick. The former Azkal sent a dangerous cross to the right of Casas, only Joven Bedic pushed the opposing keeper to get to the ball before launching a shot that went into the net.
Ceres wrestled control of the match in the next few minutes after finally getting passes into their attacking third. At the 32nd minute, Patrick Reichelt found some space past the defense, but his shot was over the bar. Kaya stood their ground as they denied several attempts from the League Champions on set pieces to keep the match scoreless until the additional time.
In stoppage time, the top-seeded Kaya broke the deadlock with a goal against the run of play. OJ Porteria connected to Diego Barrera on the right flank, who then sent the ball inside the box to Hanley. The striker volleyed the ball into the back of the net and past Casas. The yellow-shirts went into the halftime break with the precarious 1-0 lead.
At the second half, Ceres-La Salle picked up from where they left off in the first as they dominated the chances at the start. Three minutes from the restart, Reichelt sent a pass to Bienvenido Marañon. The Spaniard attempted from way outside the box, but his shot was too strong. In a succeeding play, Lee Jeong Woo attempted from the top of the box, only Kaya custodian Nick O’Donnell easily collected.
Kaya turned this defensive intensity into attack, and was again rewarded with a goal at the 56th minute. Bedic found Barrera near the penalty area, and the latter fired to the crossbar and into the goal for his team’s second. Sensing momentum, the home side had two more opportunities from set pieces but failed to execute.
The visitors finally took one back in the 63rd minute to cut the deficit. After a Kaya denial on a Paul Mulders attempt, Ceres’ Lee collected a pass from the midfield and weaved through the defense. The Korean forward curved the ball into the onion bag and past O’Donnell.
In the following play, Kaya’s Greatwich and Lee had an altercation and were both booked. Greatwich was consequently sent off for his second yellow, which brought his team down to ten men.
After a Kaya foul was called at the 73rd minute, Martin Steuble sent his free kick into the box and connected to Juani Guirado, who headed the ball into the net for the equalizer. Ceres then continued to pepper the home squad in search of that possible winning goal, but these attempts went straight to the mitts of O’Donnell. The fulltime whistle was blown with both teams knotted at 2.
At extra time, the League Champions Ceres kept on attacking Kaya’s defense with several passes into their first third. At the 96th minute, Lee found substitute Marwin Angeles, who was stifled by O’Donnell. In an ensuing play, Steuble connected to Reichelt inside the box, but the shot went over. Kaya managed to stifle the Ceres onslaught and forced a penalty shootout.
In the shootout, Kaya scored first with Porteria and veteran Aly Borromeo got the second, while Marañon and Lee scored the first two goals for Ceres. In the third shot, Kaya’s Kenshiro Daniels was denied by opposing keeper Casas twice after a second take was ordered. The home side’s custodian O’Donnell made sure the score will remain at 2-all when he collected Mulders’ attempt. Christian Ayew sent the yellow-shirts back on the driver’s seat on the following take. Another save from O’Donnell over Steuble and a successful spot kick from Louis Clark sealed the victory and title for Kaya FC.
With the win, Kaya FC joined their victims Ceres-La Salle FC in the 2016 AFC Cup competitions. Ceres-La Salle will play at the group stages, while Kaya will be battling it out in the playoff for a spot in the same phase.
In an interview, Kaya Team Manager Paul Tolentino was thrilled that his wards won the Cup against the League Champions Ceres. “It still hasn’t sunk in. I’m speechless,” he uttered. The manager gave credit to the boys for the heart they have shown throughout the competition and singled out veteran Greatwich, who took over the tactical decisions and coaching after the departure of Adam Reekie. “It started with Chris [Greatwich] handling the team and it’s fitting that we ended it with him taking control,” he exclaimed.
Greatwich, however, gave the credit to his teammates and cited specifically this game on how they manage to pull through in the competition. He explained, “I didn’t play for the last 30 minutes of the game. I didn’t play extra time. The boys who played for the last half-hour of the game and 30 minutes of extra time deserve the credit.” The former Azkal believed that in-game execution of his planned tactics was what won them matches and the Cup. When asked about the AFC Cup for next year, Greatwich said that he is not thinking about it for now, instead will try to take enjoy the moment. The long-time playmaker, however, ended that what was important is that, “We did the job.”
In the earlier match Loyola Meralco Sparks won the contention for third place against Stallion FC. It was a true fight to the finish as both teams defended their goals up until injury time. The first half witnessed Stallion grab hold of possession, and often threatened Loyola’s goal. However, their attacking streak would only be marred by the Sparks’ stalwart interception and defensive play. It wasn’t long until the match was out of the scoring drought when the penalty shootout commenced. The shootout resulted with the Sparks who won all their goals, while Stallion missed two. The winning team was then awarded with a trophy during the final ceremony.
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