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SMART Sports’ Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros

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Tiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

Football was well and truly alive for Filipinos in 2017

There were highs and lows but the roller coaster ride showed that the sport is gaining in prominence ever since the resurgence brought about by that fabled Azkals run in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Philippine Women’s National Football Team qualifies for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian CupTiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

After 15 years in the wilderness, the Philippines is set to compete once again in Asia’s premier international women’s competition.

Steered by 2017 AFC Coach of the Year nominee Buda Bautista, the Philippine Women’s National Football Team had three wins, one draw and one loss in the qualifiers held last April 3 to 12, 2017 in Tajikistan to book a ticket for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan.

“It was really (the players’) thirst to win that pushed us,” said Bautista after the Filipinas’ second place finish in Group A which sealed the deal. “Hindi pa nga nagsi-sink in. I think we made history.”

The one player whose stock rose in the qualifiers was De La Salle University’s Sara Castaneda who scored the goal against Bahrain that clinched the point needed to move on to the big dance which shall be held this April 6 to 18, 2018.

“[It’s] very fulfilling. I mean it is not all the time that we get an opportunity like this,” the midfielder said. “I wouldn’t have been able to score the goals without the team, so thank you to them.”

The Filipinas’ initial reward for their endeavors is to grouped alongside China, Thailand and hosts Jordan. As of this writing, preparations for the competition are ongoing in the USA with newly appointed coach Richard Boone.

Since the tournament also serves as the Asian qualifiers for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the France, a fifth place finish is what the Filipinas need to enter the world stage.

“We call on all true supporters of Philippine Football to come together to help make the World Cup Qualification a reality. In 2010, the Miracle in Hanoi brought us all together to support the men’s national team. Now is the time for Women’s football to take us to the next level,” commented Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta.

La Salle, Ateneo reclaim UAAP football crownsTiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

Right from the kickoff of the UAAP Season 79 Men’s and Women’s Football divisions, it was clear which school was a notch higher in its respective division.

Both the De La Salle Lady Archers and Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles suffered heartbreak in their respective Season 78 finals matches and were eager to go one better from where they last let off.

La Salle did not just go one better, though, as the Taft school won all its games including the 3-1 title-clincher against University of Santo Tomas last May 7, 2017. The Lady Archers’ victory handed La Salle its ninth UAAP Women’s Football championship and its first after seven seasons.

La Salle coach Hans-Peter Smit shared, “It’s about time! The girls deserve this considering what I said before that we’re not a complete team, healthy team. And with the injuries and everything there and coming out champions with with a perfect season, what else can I say?”

Likewise, Ateneo had a dominant season in the Men’s Division as the Blue Eagles only drew and lost once in the elimination round. Season 79 MVP Jarvey Gayoso was Ateneo’s main star and it was fitting that the grandson of the legendary Ed Ocampo and son of former Ginebra stalwart Jayvee Gayoso scored the only goal of the finals match against Far Eastern University.

“We deserve this. I’m so happy to win another championship,” said Ateneo coach JP Merida after the Blue Eagles’ 1-0 victory of the Tamaraws.

Gayoso’s championship goal was one of the 12 he scored en route towards Ateneo’s league-best seventh championship. “That’s why I always point to the sky. I offer this to my lolo, my mom and my dad,” said the now third-year striker.

Philippines Football League is launched amidst growing painsTiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

Out with the old and in with the new.

In a move seen to help Philippine football evolve to the next level, the PFF launched the nationwide Philippines Football League to replace the Metro Manila-centered United Football last April 21, 2017 at Shangri-La at the Fort hotel in Taguig City.

Kaya-Makati, Ceres-Negros, Global Cebu, JPV-Marikina, Stallion Laguna, Meralco Manila, Davao Aguilas and Ilocos United comprised of the eight teams in the league’s inaugural season.

PFF president Araneta said to Nevin Reyes of the Manila Times, “This is the first professional football league in the Philippines. We are really happy that this is pushing through. Hopefully, it would be successful. We are here to support the success of this league.”

As always in the formation of something new, growing pains were experienced by all of the league’s stakeholders. Not all clubs were said to be able to pay the franchise fee, but the league’s biggest problem was arguably its lack of decent coverage on television or livestream.

Mike Limpag of Sun Star Cebu wrote, “There were a lot of major hiccups in the inaugural season of the PFL and I think the most glaring one was the TV deal with PTV 4, which didn’t even last half a season.”

If the PFL’s shortage of TV coverage was bad enough, then its livestream platform Mycujoo’s lack of stability made the circumstances worse. Local football fans were deprived of the stable online platform they needed to fully enjoy the show.

With all those issues mentioned, however, we must realize the the league needed to exist sooner rather than later. The longer the league failed to get established, then the probability of it not existing at all would definitely be higher.

Ultimately, Ceres cemented itself as the best team in the land with a 4-1 victory vs Global in the championship game. Ceres’ victory showed that while the league itself is difficult to manage, it’s always going to be worth it.

Here’s to a better season come 2018.

Local clubs rise in international cupsTiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

The two clubs that reached the 2017 PFL final were Ceres and Global. These two clubs were also the flag bearers for Philippine club football in continental and regional play.

Global got eliminated in the preliminary rounds of the 2017 AFC Champions League so the Cebu club slid down to the 2017 AFC Cup group stage. Global and Ceres then progressed past their respective groups and entered Asean Zonal semi-finals.

Sadly, the dream of seeing both clubs face each other in the ASEAN Zonal Final wasn’t meant to be. Singaporean club Home United painfully eliminated Global 5-4 on aggregate while Ceres had Fernando Rodriguez’s last-minute penalty to thank for as the Busmen drew level 4-4 with Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim and advanced via the away goals rule.

Destiny beckoned for Ceres and the Busmen took it with both hands. Ceres downed Home United 3-2 in aggregate thanks to a masterful performance in the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City to become the AFC Cup’s ASEAN Zonal Champions.

Busmen coach Risto Vidakovic opined to Cedelf Tupas of the Inquirer, “The players gave everything. It wasn’t easy when you miss so many chances because when that happens, you usually lose. But whoever came on gave their all for the club.”

Although Ceres failed to get past West Asia Zonal champions Istiklol FC of Tajikistan, the Bacolod club’s achievement drew recognition from AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Al Khalifa said, “On behalf of the AFC football family, I would like to congratulate Ceres Negros for claiming the ASEAN Zonal Champions crown.”

On the other hand, Global went through another international heartbreak. Misagh Bahadoran and company became the first Filipino club to reach the Singapore Cup final after prevailing 4-3 on aggregate against Singapore side Hougang United.

Japanese club Albirex Niigata awaited Global in the finals and the two clubs drew level at 2-2 after extra time so penalties were needed. Albirex then outlasted Global 3-1 on penalties after the latter’s Wesley Dos Santos, Darryl Roberts and Paolo Salenga all missed their spot-kicks.

Global coach Akbar Nawas commented to ABS-CBN Sports’ Camille Naredo, “I’m immensely satisfied with the whole season. The players, myself, the staff, the coaches, everyone had to dig deep. Every single game, we had to dig deep in our approach to beat the opponents.”

Come 2018, Ceres and Global will again carry Philippine club football in international play courtesy of their PFL finals appearance. The sky is the limit for both clubs and an improvement will be most welcome for Philippine football’s growth.

Asian Cup frustration and the Taiwan debacleTiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

It is safe to say that 2017 was a year to forget for the Philippine Azkals.

The Azkals should have followed their female counterparts’ lead and qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian cup by now, but the national team is currently flirting with disaster. Grouped with Yemen, Tajikistan and Nepal; the Filipinos won their first two assignments only to draw the next three.

Javier Patino’s ACL injury turned a deadly Azkals squad into a tame one in terms of goalscoring, although that shouldn’t be a big excuse as the squad had more than enough firepower to seal qualification in that infuriating goalless draw away to winless Nepal.

Araneta said to Inquirer’s Tupas, “It’s disappointing. We have to talk to (Dooley) on what the team needs as we should have won that game. I don’t know what are the reasons for that but we can’t afford another bad result.”

Aside from failing to seal Asian Cup qualification for the first time, the Azkals saw their place in the FIFA World Rankings go down from 118 to 124 at the end of the year. This was mainly due to the poor performance shown by the squad selected for the Chinese Taipei Football Association International Tournament held last December 1 to 5, 2017.

Mentored by Marlon Maro and managed by Davao Aguilas owner Jefferson Cheng, the team formed with mostly Davao players won against Laos and went on to lose to Chinese Taipei and Timor Leste. Local football fans were livid with the results and the backlash went into overdrive.

Azkals team manager Dan Palami voiced his dissent on Twitter and stated, “Just as we remember the Azkals Miracle in Hanoi, so too should we not forget this experience in Taiwan. Both offer valuable lessons…” which forced a reaction from Cheng.

Cheng answered back, “I think whoever makes these negative statements are being unfair. We ended up second place with 3 days preparation, the players were given the best organization one can possibly do with the time, and logistics constraints we have plus the conflict that the CTFA Tournament have with the PFL schedule.

“We may not have won the tournament but the winner here is Philippine football. The exposure given to our younger players was the right thing to do,” added the Davao owner.

Thankfully, 2018 offers a new opportunity for the Azkals to soothe the frustration of local football fans. What better what way to start the repentance than to earn Asian Cup qualification against Tajikistan in Panaad this March 27, 2018.

A win or draw will suffice for the Azkals’ qualification while a loss would leave Filipinos hoping Nepal escapes defeat against Yemen in the other fixture.

Philippine Football Personality of the Year: Leo Rey YansonTiebreaker Times SMART Sports' Best of 2017: Banner year for Filipinas, Ceres-Negros ADMU DLSU Football PFL Philippine Azkals Philippine Malditas UAAP  UAAP Season 79 Women's Football UAAP Season 79 Men's Football Sara Castaneda Risto Vidakovic Nonong Araneta Jarvey Gayoso Global-Cebu FC DLSU Women's Football Ceres-Negros FC Buda Bautista Ateneo Men's Football Akbar Nawas 2017 PFL Season

Truth be told no other person rocked the local football scene more than Ceres owner Leo Rey Yanson.

Yanson poured money into the club to recruit stars such as Roland Muller, Iain Ramsay and Stephan Schrock for the Bacolod club and his investment has paid dividends. Ceres not only won the inaugural PFL crown, but the Busmen also affirmed themselves on the international stage with their ASEAN Zonal title.

“This year is undoubtedly, a great year for us,” said Yanson to Cedelf Tupas. “Clinching the AFC Cup 2017 Asean zone title and the Philippine Football League Championship title would have not been possible without the hard work and sacrifices that each of the players and coaching staff have put in.”

In fact, such is Yanson’s love for the club and its fans that tickets to watch Ceres’ games are for free. As told by Ceres official Warren Concepcion to Spin.ph’s Christian Jacinto, “Our team owner Mr. Leo Rey Yanson decides to give out the tickets for free. It’s been the story of Ceres Negros Football to give back to our fans and supporters in Panaad so our boss decided to give out tickets for free.”

It is only fitting then that Yanson’s Ceres will carry the flag for Philippine football in the upcoming 2018 AFC Champions League. First up for the Busmen will be Myanmar champions Shan United on January 16. Ceres will have to pull off a win sans Ramsay and Muller who will leave the club.

Nevertheless, expect Yanson to pull off some aces in recruitment to help give his team a possible run in Asia’s premier competition.

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