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Loyola Meralco Sparks blank Manila Jeepney, set-up semifinals clash with Ceres-La Salle

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Loyola Meralco Sparks arranged a semifinals United Football League (UFL) Cup meeting with the League Champions after a 3-0 win over Manila Jeepney early Saturday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

An aggressive Sparks charged early to the surprise of Manila Jeepney. Ten minutes into the start of the match, the Sparks immediately had chances in open play. Their second minute build up, however, was called offside while their succeeding plays directed to their leading scorer, Brad Grayson, were not able to meet the back of the net.

On the other hand, Jeepney XI could not connect with their passes, forcing them to hold on defense and rely on the counter-attack. The plan gave Jeepney their first chance at goal when Arnel Amita was fouled hard by Sparks captain James Younghusband at the 18th minute. The consequent free kick by Van Rey Diaz connected to Michael Menzi, but Sparks custodian Tommy Trigo was ready and easily corralled the ball. A minute after the half-hour mark, Amita took charge and tried to break the deadlock with a 40-yard attempt that was caught by Trigo.

It was one-way traffic from then on as the Sparks held majority of the possession and relentlessly pressured the Beep Beep squad’s defense with great ball movement. This show of inspired football helped the Sparks tally two consecutive goals within just two minutes. At the 33rd minute, James Younghusband linked with younger brother Phil near the center circle. The younger Younghusband weaved past Jeepney’s defense and got himself tackled by Joshua Mulero inside the box. The resulting penalty kick was taken by the Philippine International and sent it past Jeepney goalkeeper Patrick Rallos.

The home team immediately doubled their score in the following play. Phil Younghusband skillfully directed a free kick into the box. The elder Younghusband towered over the defense and flicked the ball towards an open Joaco Cañas. The Spaniard then easily headed the ball in for a goal.

The Sparks almost tripled their lead in stoppage time as Phil launched one from yards out. The half remained 2-0 in favor of the Sparks.

Meralco picked up from where they left off in the second half as they bombarded Jeepney in the early goings. Phil Younghusband orchestrated the offense with great passes from set pieces and in open play. Frustrations arose as none of their successive chances met the back of the net underlined by a sorry miss from Graham Caygill, who was inches in front of an unmanned goal.

Los Manileños on their part, had their share of chances, but none were able to penetrate the Sparks’ defense.

Right before full-time, Meralco were finally able add one more to their tally. Substitute and returning Sparks player Lee Joo Young was designated to take a corner from right flank. The Korean winger smartly crossed towards a rushing Anton del Rosario. The former Azkal had acres of space and slotted it in to complete his team’s 3-0 win.

Loyola Meralco Sparks gaffer Simon McMenemy expressed his pleasure with how his wards performed. “No controversy, no arguments, no frustrations, no annoyance, it was a very straightforward, comfortable, professional win,” he said. The Scottish coach also added that he was very happy to take the win before a big game.

Coach McMenemy and his wards will now prepare to face League Champions Ceres-La Salle FC on Tuesday, August 25.

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