In a battle of the country’s premier hotbeds of football, only one deserves to come out on top.
Negros Occidental Football Association (NOFA) overpowers rivals, Iloilo Football Association, 5-3, to walk away with the trophy and bragging rights in the first United Football League Western Visayas Classic on Saturday, April 25, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Both teams charged into offense early in the game. Jinggoy Valmayor attempted a shot at the second minute mark, but his shot was deflected. Another shot by the Negrenses, at the ensuing play, was dealt with by Iloilo’s defense. Their third time was the charm for the yellow shirts, at the seventh minute, as Valmayor found the back of the net, when he broke free from his defenders to get the go-ahead goal for his team.
Iloilo had more fluidity in their passes and ball movement, but could not finish in the final third. However, just two minutes after Negros’ goal, Iloilo equalized. The Ilonggos got possession of the ball after a scramble at the top of the box. Jhan-jhan Melliza sent a cross to former Azkals, Ian Araneta, for the header to tie the game at 1-apiece.
It was a tight battle as the teams pushed for the ball and the lead. At the 14th minute, Lemuel Unabia of NOFA tried to head the ball into the net, but was blocked. Melliza attempted to get a goal directly from the corner, but Negros Captain and National Team Keeper, Edward Sacapaño, handled the shot with ease. Jimuel Ariola retrieved the lead for Negros at the 24th minute off a pass from Valmayor, 2-1.
Iloilo tried to equalize the score as they maintained with their aggressiveness towards the goal. Despite their efforts, Negros managed to capitalize on their few chances on the attack. In the vicinity of the 35th minute, Ilolio cleared a Negros attempt for a corner. Negros took the corner shot in the resulting play, when Joshua Beloya sent the ball to Ariola for the header. This padded on the gap for NOFA at 3-1. The Ilonggos finally got into box, but their shots were either weak or easily collected by Sacapaño. Negros went to the halftime with this 3-1 lead.
At the half, both Negros and Iloilo got some fresh legs as they fielded one substitute each. Tating Pasilan and Noli John Chavez got into the game for their respective clubs. Down by two goals, Iloilo continued to pile on the pressure up top. Just four minutes into the half, Ruben Doctora got to test Sacapaño with attempts at the goal, but the feisty forward could not finish. In the next minute, it was Jovin Bedic who tried his luck for the red shirts. The persistence paid off for Iloilo, when Jalsor Soriano was called for a hand ball. Araneta sank the penalty calmly to cut the deficit back to one, 2-3.
Sensing some momentum, Iloilo did not let up on their attack, forcing Sacapaño to go for the save on a long shot at the 62nd minute. The game got too intense, and it became more physical. In the 65th minute, Araneta and Beloya collided with each other, causing the Iloilo striker to the sidelines. Iloilo got what they wanted at the 68th minute. Melliza collected a pass from Doctora and had a brilliant one-touch shot for the equalizer, 3-3.
With the match all square, it was a battle to prove who had the bigger heart and the stronger will to finish on top. Iloilo almost went on to lead at the 75th minute when Doctora was fouled at the edge of the box. However, he could not connect on the free kick, and his shot was easily saved by Sacapaño. Instead, at the 79th minute, a beautiful run at the Negros midfield saw Ariola and Valmayor link up for the latter’s second goal of the match to reclaim the lead, 4-3.
It was a wakeup call for the yellow shirts as they relaxed in this half, allowing Iloilo to tie the match, and a chance to take away the victory. NOFA, then, continued to press for the attack, in spite of Iloilo’s need to get back into the game. The effort paid off for the Negrenses as Valmayor scored his hattrick for the day when he shot a cross from Beloya at the 83rd minute.
Iloilo settled for long shots and other means to salvage some pride, but a chip from Doctora was easily collected by Sacapaño. The Negrenses pressed on further and they almost got rewarded with another goal. A shot by Pasilan was cleared by Iloilo Substitute Goalie, Mark Sorongon; which then followed with a rebound volley that went off-target. The match ended in a similar fashion to halftime with Negros leading by two goals, 5-3, thus, taking the win and the trophy.
Coach James Dinsay expressed his happiness towards his players who were able to get the win, despite the lack of practice and training together. He also shared that they played well in the first half, but “in the second half, we relaxed. I told them to continue playing [like] how we played in the first half,” which did pay dividends in the game. When asked about the midfield play of Iloilo, he praised his defense for the masterful job of dealing with it. “I told the defense to just do well. And I think we played well.” Coach Dinsay also said that there was no pressure after Iloilo tied it at 3-all, but he was happy that his boys pulled through, citing, Most Valuable Player (MVP), Valmayor’s contribution. “We know Jinggoy is a good player,” he exclaimed.
The powerhouse striker shared his sentiments about the match and exclaimed that it was really a fight for team honor. “Kasi dati pa talaga ‘yun, ‘yung rivalry ng Negros at tsaka ng Iloilo; so battle for pride lang talaga.” When asked about the mindset of his team, Valmayor shared that Negros trained once and talked with each other afterwards. “Tsaka syempre gusto nila [Iloilo] kaming talunin. Gusto din naming silang talunin.” The Pachanga Diliman veteran also expressed his thoughts on how they played offensively, attributing the win mainly on the system they have “Siguro may system talaga ‘yung both football associations, so siguro alam nila ‘yung gagawin nila sa game. Kasi ‘yung iba naming teammates, magkakasama rin so may chemistry talaga.” Valmayor, who played well and helped his team on the attack told the media that Coach Dinsay told them, “Laro lang. Laruin ‘yung laro namin. Huwag magpatalo.”
Iloilo Coach, Marjo Allado, expressed his pride with the team’s attitude that showed especially in the second half. He added that they almost dominated the latter half of the match. He cited, “So, the problem with us [is] defending form crosses. ‘Yun ‘yung pumatay samin eh.” The veteran coach also said that fitness of his team dropped in the second half. He also cited that with the departure of Araneta and Jovanie Simpron, their game also changed. “We have speed but iba pa rin ‘yung presence pag nasa taas siya [Araneta]”. Allado also had some good words for his centerback, Jason Cordova, who returned to football action after almost three years. “He did well but he can do just as much.”