Ceres-Negros and Kaya FC Iloilo secured their tickets to the Copa Paulino Alcantara final, and along with the mouthwatering face-off for the silverware, a much bigger implication is at stake that deals on the power-play in the early phase of Philippine football’s professional era.
Three-time consecutive Philippines Football League (PFL) champions Ceres were able to squeeze through a seven-goal thriller semifinal match against a spirited Stallion Laguna side by getting a 4-3 win in Binan Football Stadium last November 10.
In the other semifinal, which kicked-off simultaneously, Kaya successfully mounted a late push in the second half to get a 3-0 result and deny Mendiola FC 1991 any glimmer of hope of reaching the final for a shot at winning the cup.
The results from both matches rendered the qualification for a second AFC Cup spot a foregone conclusion with Kaya already filling the void being the 2019 PFL runners-up.
However, with both sides meeting in the Copa Paulino Alcantara decider, a bigger underlying battle for supremacy is at stake aside from just winning the coveted trophy, as the cup could now be considered more as a stamp of dominance in Philippine top-flight football.
Ceres-Negros’ push for domestic immortality
League champions Ceres-Negros won the league in very convincing fashion by not suffering a single loss. Such a feat earned them the Invincibles tag for the entire 2019 PFL campaign.
But a rampant performance in the course of the busmen’s cup campaign, save for their lackluster opening draw against Mendiola, made Ceres one of the clear favourites to win the second edition of the domestic cup.
If Coach Risto Vidakovic’s men are able to win against Kaya on November 16, the Bacolod-based club will now be the first ever winners of the domestic double, completing a sweep of the trophies that Philippine football has on offer at the highest level.
What will make the feat even more remarkable, if attained, is Ceres’ invincibility tag will then be for the entire 2019 season which will be an undefeated run that spans both the league and cup campaigns – something that might never be replicated for, at least, several years.
Kaya FC’s march towards destiny
Kaya FC Iloilo meanwhile are set to defend their title with only one hurdle left standing their way, the formidable Ceres fleet.
After achieving a dream start in the cup tournament with the 5-0 dismantling of Philippine Air Force, Coach Noel Marcaida’s men were pushed to the limit against Stallion Laguna in their final Group B fixture last November 6 with a 1-1 draw, as both teams tussled to seize top seeding which Kaya were able to hold on to.
However, the semifinal win against a hungry Mendiola squad proved that Kaya are legitimate defenders of the cup that they were able to win last year in thrilling fashion.
Come the final, if Kaya are able to take their chances and end up victorious, it would halt their close rivals, Ceres-Negros’ plans to achieve something exclusively rare, while they themselves will seize a historic back-to-back Copa Alcantara titles that could pave the way for them to a legitimate claim as the “Cup Kings” of Philippine Football, with the two of the biggest trophies once again split between the fierce rivals.
A true test of depth for The Invincibles
The final won’t be a walk in the park though for either side, as both squads’ mettles will be tested.
But a much tougher proposition hangs on Ceres-Negros as it is believed that several of their key players are already heading to the Azkals’ camp immediately after the recently concluded semifinal match in preparation for the World Cup qualifying match away against Maldives which will be on November 14.
Though Ceres’ squad is no doubt very deep, if full-force, the fact that five more players might not be available for the final against Kaya will be a true test of the busmen’s bench.
The Final of the 2019 Copa Paulino Alcantara is set on Saturday, November 16 in Binan Football Stadium.
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