After suffering a loss in their first United Football League (UFL) Cup match, Manila Jeepney are now on a roll, winning their third consecutive match, 5-2, at the expense of Laos FC to close out the group stages of the tournament Tuesday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
In the beginning of the match, Arthur Kouassi tested the Laos defense with two chances stopped in the first 13 minutes. In between those came a Leo Villegas shot that was deflected safely for Manila Jeepney goalie Arjay Joyel to collect. Jeepney executed more on the attack but they were unable to find the back of the net before the halfway mark of the first half.
Manila Jeepney’s persistence intensified at the 24th minute when Alvaro Alonso was involved in two chances. Alonso had his shot blocked before he set up Nicolas Ferrer Jr., who narrowly misfired. In the succeeding minute, the Division I team got what they wanted. Ngaly Epesso sliced the Laos defense to find an onside Eric Giganto. The FEU striker then attempted to cheekily put the ball into the net but it lacked the pace to guarantee a goal. Thankfully for him, Kouassi relentlessly chased the ball down to tap the ball in before Check Camara was able to get to the ball.
The Division I team’s lead was short-lived, however, with defender Joshua Mulero making a costly mistake six minutes after they took the advantage. Patrik Franksson took advantage of Mulero’s poor defensive touch before the forward fed Aaron Altiche who clinically scored against Joyel to make it 1-1. Nonetheless, Manila Jeepney went ahead anew six minutes before halftime when Kouassi drilled in a cross into the box. Giganto and Epesso were running into the box and it was the latter who stroked it past Oliver Moreno to give his team a 2-1 edge. The score stayed the same until halftime.
In the second half, Jeepney lost their lead after just two minutes. Altiche’s cross located Franksson who easily guided the ball to score his team’s second and the game’s fourth goal. His goal prompted Manila Jeepney to respond right away but shots from Alonso, Kouassi, and Giganto went nowhere near the goal. It took a moment of brilliance from Khosro Safarian. The defender’s free kick was simply too strong for Moreno to stop it from going in. A minute later, Giganto took advantage of a defensive lapse to tuck in his team’s fourth goal.
After an hour of football has elapsed, Laos attempted to get themselves back in the game. Franksson got around Joyel but his weak shot rolled easily for Talla Nembot to clear off the line at the 65th minute. Four minutes later, the defender who preserved Jeepney’s lead almost allowed Laos to return into the match. Together with Joyel, he gave away an indirect free kick inside the box. Luckily for them, Laos was unable to capitalize on such an opportunity. Chances for Laos to redeem at least a point thinned as time was gradually expiring. They could have gone 5-2 down if not for Moreno’s heroic stop on Giganto’s break-away chance. Seconds after, play was halted as the lights on the grandstand dimmed out. The delay lasted for 25 minutes.
When the lights came back on, both teams eased their way back into the rhythm. It did take a while for them to get back on the groove, often settling long passes in the build-up of their unsuccessful attacking movements. Holding a two-goal lead, Manila Jeepney benefitted from the game’s slow pace. The trailing team slightly threatened to earn a third but Manila Jeepney’s disciplined defending limited Laos from getting better looks to make the match exciting towards the end. It was even Manila Jeepney who grabbed the next goal courtesy of Kouassi’s neat through ball to substitute Michael Menzi. The FEU standout then took his time to end the game’s last play with a goal.
With the result, Manila Jeepney improve their record to nine points, amassing three wins and a loss in the process. Laos, after the loss, will still be satisfied knowing that they own a better goal difference than fellow Division II and Group D squad Forza. UFL Cup will resume in July with 16 teams battling it out to lift the coveted title.