Only four teams saw action in this past weekend’s Philippine Football League match week so it does not come as a surprise that this may have been the quietest period in the league’s history. In fact, only one goal was scored in between the 180 minutes of football played in the two biggest metropolitan centers of the country.
Nonetheless, there was plenty of action to talk about and here’s how both skirmishes unfolded:
Meralco-Manila avoids banana slip in narrow Ilocos United triumph
One look at the PFL table would suggest that league leaders Meralco-Manila would have an easy outing against cellar dwellers Ilocos United. The former had 36 points in the bag, nine times more than the number Ilocos have under their belt. Yet it would be anything but easy as the Sparks crawled their way to a 1-0 victory over the Ilocanos Sunday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
To be fair, the Sparks weren’t at their full strength as they missed a few familiar faces in the starting XI. Simon Greatwich and Milan Nikolic were suspended while Daniel Gadia is on international duty at the SEA Games. Still, Meralco was able to boast their depth with the likes of Neil Dorimon and Anto Gonzales proving to be capable replacements.
As expected, Meralco dictated the passage of play. It’s a familiar situation for both teams with Ilocos United also used to sitting deep and waiting for their limited opportunities to arrive. Curt Dizon and Connor Tacagni led the charge for the hosts as they tested former Meralco goalkeeper Baba Sampana but to no avail.
It seemed that Sampana and his new squad would be able to shut the Sparks down but Dizon had other ideas. The Philippines international met Tahj Minniecon’s sweet-looking pass before finishing the move with a neat finish. With that goal, Meralco managed to end the half in front, 1-0.
It stayed that way until full time but not without opportunities for it to be changed. Minniecon, Ashley Flores, and Joaco Cañas all had their attempts to pad Meralco’s advantage. Unfortunately for them, no one struck on target.
As the score stayed 1-0, Ilocos gained a bit of confidence of gaining at least a point out of a cagey affair. In the end, they couldn’t find an equalizing goal meaning the Sparks had has done enough to get their 39th point of the season.
Sparks Coach Aris Caslib acknowledged the difficulty of facing their latest opponents, who didn’t give the hosts an easy time as well on their first meeting earlier in the season that ended 2-1 to Meralco. Bucking the short-term losses, the former national team coach was pleased by his team’s performance except in one aspect. “I was surprised by our (wasted) chances. We need to go back to the training pitch to work on our finishing,” he uttered.
Improvement on that department would come in handy as they prepare for a skirmish against JPV-Marikina come Wednesday.
Global-Cebu keeps unbeaten home record intact against dangerous Kaya-Makati
Only a battle with Meralco-Manila earlier in the season had ended without a Kaya-Makati goal prior to the latter’s encounter against Global-Cebu so the Cebuanos had scored no mean feat when they held the Makati team to a goalless draw at the Cebu City Sports Complex.
Hitman Jordan Mintah saw the ball bulge the back of the net twice only to see each attempt disallowed for offside. The first of those came in the cagey first half just after Ref Cuaresma denied Rufo Sanchez of scoring the opening goal. The Ghana native drilled the ball in from Jovin Bedic before slotting it into the net. Joy was quickly replaced by frustration as Mintah and his teammates noticed the flag go up for an offside infraction.
Kaya’s attacking duo of Mintah and Robert Lopez-Mendy planned to trouble the Cebuano defense like the way they did against previous opponents. Their aggressiveness led a Kaya charge that almost ensued for the duration of the second period.
Lopez Mendy had a glorious chance that went begging in the 47th minute when he guided Bedic’s cross wide. A few moments later, Kaya-Makati had a penalty claim denied after Bedic was felled inside the 18-yard box.
At times, Global sprang to catch their opponents defending on their toes. A deadly core of Sanchez, Darryl Roberts, Misagh Bahadoran, and Hikaru Minegishi is a handful to most teams. Yet for the firm Kaya-Makati defense, it was a force that they were able to cope with for the rest of the match. A key factor in halting the home team’s attacking might is Cuaresma, who once again took home the Man of the Match honors.
“Some of my family were here. You can’t make mistakes. Everyone is expecting so much. We didn’t want to disappoint the people who came to watch us play because, almost all the people here (at CCSC) were supporting Global,” the former Meralco goalkeeper whose Cebuano roots are strong told.
The fans were not disappointed but perhaps Kaya-Makati players were especially in an incident 67 minutes into the game. It appeared that Mintah grabbed a breakthrough goal from a set piece only for the other linesman to raise his flag, deeming him to be offside in the buildup. It was the last time the ball went into the net as both teams settled for a point after 90 action-packed minutes.
Out of the two coaches, Cebu’s Akbar Nawas looked to have left the venue the happier. Battling a well-organized squad, he recognized his team’s efforts, mainly on the defensive end. “I think they had been scoring in every game, so for us to shut them out, I think it’s a plus point,” the Singaporean noted.
On the other side of the fence, Kaya mentor Noel Marcaida lauded his team’s spirited display in front of a partisan crowd in Cebu. “We played quality football from the start up to the finish. I think the way Kaya FC performed, we deserved the three points,” he firmly believed. As for the two decisions that denied Mintah of netting a goal, the gaffer have his doubts and expressed intent of looking back at it.
Truly offside or not, Mintah and his team can no longer change the fact that Kaya have slipped further away from Meralco-Manila. With the Sparks winning the day after, the gap is now at 10 points with the Manila club still playing a game less than Kaya. Global, on the other hand, has the same number of points as Kaya but trail due to inferior goal difference.