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AFC Cup 2020 Boot Spotting: Ceres and Kaya creators in Group Stage Rd 1

The first round of AFC Cup 2020 group stage action concluded with Filipino clubs Ceres-Negros FC and Kaya FC-Iloilo getting positive starts, and they have their goal creators to thank for.

Without further delay here are the goal providers after the first round of matches in the AFC Cup.

OJ Porteria (WF/MF, Ceres-Negros: 2 Assists)

Provided Takashi Odawara’s 14th minute opening goal and Bienvenido Marañon’s second in the 70th minute, OJ Porteria was in his element for Ceres in their AFC Cup 2020 campaign opener against Svay Rieng FC.

One of the busmen’s crucial pieces in their offense, Porteria’s pace, ball-control and flair make him either a goalscoring threat or a creator of chances. And in this particular fixture, OJ has been an excellent feeder for his strike partners.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

OJ Porteria’s boots: Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 Elite “New Lights” pack

Stephan Schröck (MF, Ceres-Negros: 1 ASSIST)

The AFC Cup 2019 assists leader, Ceres captain Stephan Schröck provided another deceivingly dangerous cross that Joshua Grommen converted in the 14th minute.

Always a threat in set pieces, and a steady source of chances in the attacking third, Schroecky is definitely a catalyst for his club. And once again, one of his efforts ended up being guided into the back of the net.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

Stephan Schröck’s boots: Nike Tiempo Legend 8 Elite

Manuel Ott (MF, Ceres-Negros FC: 1 ASSIST)

After a season overseas, Manny Ott returns to Ceres-Negros FC. Arguably considered as the best creative midfielder in Philippine football, perhaps one of the best in Southeast Asia, his return produced an assist for Bienvenido Marañon in the 55th minute.

If Manny Ott already produced an assist in his return debut, then expect more chances and goals from him for Ceres as the campaign further unfolds both in the AFC Cup and the domestic league!

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

Manuel Ott’s boots: Nike Mercurial Superfly 6 Elite

Arnel Amita (MF, Kaya FC-Iloilo: 1 ASSIST)

Arguably the X-factor for Kaya FC-Iloilo against Shan United, just 10 minutes after being introduced into the match as a second half substitute, the impetus provided by Arnel Amita eventually led to the breakthrough as he was fouled inside the box meriting a penalty which Jovin Bedic converted.

After another ten minutes elapsed, Kaya found themselves two goals up as Eric Giganto unleashed a well-struck drive that drilled into the back of the net, with the feed courtesy of Amita’s well-timed pass. Now, talk about Mr. Quality Minutes!

Photo credit: Kaya FC-Iloilo

Arnel Amita’s boots: Nike Mercurial Superfly 6 Elite “LVL UP” pack

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AFC Cup 2020 Boot Spotting: Ceres and Kaya goal scorers in Group Stage Rd 1

With the first round of AFC Cup 2020 group stage action in the books, and Filipino clubs Ceres-Negros FC and Kaya FC-Iloilo beginning their respective campaigns on the right track, here the goal scorers and the boots they wear.

Bienvenido Marañon (FW, Ceres-Negros FC: 2 GOALS)

Ceres-Negros’ prolific Spanish forward, Bienve Marañon, scored a brace in the opener against Cambodian champions Svay Rieng FC, putting him jointly on top of the goal-scoring chart.

If this form can be maintained, the AFC Cup 2019 top scorer is poised for another productive season in the continental stage!

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

Bienvenido Marañon’s boots: Nike Tiempo 8 Legend Elite

Takashi Odawara (MF/DF, Ceres-Negros FC: 1 GOAL)

A wise mid-season acquisition by the busmen last season, Japanese versatile defensive midfielder Takashi Odawara possesses a potent striking ability despite his mainly defensive duties as demonstrated by his goal against Svay Rieng near the edge of the box.

Although a regular haul is not expected from Odawara, it won’t come as a surprise if he could be an occasional option in attack and convert a few in crucial situations.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

Takashi Odawara’s boots: adidas X 18.1

Joshua Grommen (DF, Ceres-Negros FC: 1 GOAL)

After a two-year stint overseas, Josh Grommen made a homecoming to Ceres-Negros for the 2020 season. And in just his third appearance for the club this year (his second as a starter), Grommen opened his account in the AFC Cup against Svay Rieng.

Although replays show that the 23-year old enforcer may have used his hand in converting the chance fed by team captain Stephan Schröck, the goal stood eventually generating a momentary buzz in the footballing world as another “Hand of God” has been scored.

Josh Grommen’s boots: adidas Copa Gloro 19

Jovin Bedic (FW, Kaya FC-Iloilo: 1 GOAL)

Kaya FC-Iloilo skipper Jovin Bedic was clutch, converting what eventually has been a pivotal second half penalty kick for his club in a tough AFC Cup away opener against Burmese champions Shan United.

With the game finely on the balance, a momentary lapse on the part of the hosts tipped the scales in favor of the Filipino side when substitute Arnel Amita was fouled inside the box. Jovin Bedic stepped up to the occasion as he kept himself cool, calm and collected to convert from the spot without a hint of a doubt that served as the pivotal icebreaker.

Photo credit: AFC Cup

Jovin Bedic’s boots: Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 Elite

Eric Giganto (FW/MF, Kaya FC-Iloilo: 1 GOAL)

One of Kaya FC’s ever-dependable players the past few seasons, Eric Giganto once again demonstrated his importance to the team when he scored a late goal off a feed from Arnel Amita to put his club two-goals up against Shan United and erase all doubts in the tie.

Giganto’s knack for scoring late goals, particularly as a substitute, makes him virtually the club’s super-sub, and his jugular against Shan United further strengthened such case.

Photo credit: Kaya FC-Iloilo

Eric Giganto’s boots: Mizuno Morelia Neo

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FC Tokyo: Ceres-Negros’ toughest hurdle yet

Ceres-Negros may have achieved a monumental win against Thai club Port FC to book their place in the AFC Champions League 2020 playoff match but awaiting the busmen is probably their most difficult challenge yet: FC Tokyo.

Here’s a brief background on FC Tokyo focusing more on the club’s past season form and achievements and which players to watch out for.

FC Tokyo’s 2019 campaign

Despite coming short from winning the J1 title, the capital-based club had a stellar domestic league campaign last year finishing second (their best ever achievement since winning J2 and the Emperor’s Cup back in 2011, and returning to the top-flight).

For the most part of the 2019 season, from Week 8 to Week 27, FC Tokyo had led the league standings, until relinquishing their seat at the summit and struggling to regain it for good.

In conclusion, FC Tokyo finished the 2019 season with 64 points from 19 wins, 7 draws, and 8 losses – a total that was just six points shy from eventual league champions Yokohama F. Marinos.

A talented, dangerous squad

At the post-season J.League awards, officials have chosen six players from FC Tokyo as part of the season’s “Best XI” namely, Akihiro Hayashi (GK), Sei Muroya (DF), Masato Morishige (DF), Kento Hashimoto (MF), Kensuke Nagai (FW), and Diego Oliveira (FW/ST).

Out of the six players who received the end-of-season plaudits, striker Diego Oliveira proved to be a reliable target-man in his second season for the club by notching 14 goals which were good enough to be tied at second-best in the entire J1.

The fact that six players from the club made it to the standout players’ squad for the season speaks volumes of the capability that head coach Kenta Hasegawa has under his disposal. Add to those some of additional key players in the squad such as captain Keigo Higashi, Yojiro Takahagi, Kyosuke Tagawa, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, and a trio of Brazilian midfielders in their ranks, FC Tokyo indeed has a very imposing squad.

What are Ceres-Negros chances?

On paper: Slim. Very!

But it doesn’t mean that it’s already a lost cause for Ceres-Negros’ 13th destination in their Asian football odyssey (not at all!), as the Philippines’ league and cup champions have the tools to come up with a decent challenge and hopefully a surprise upset.

Even though Japan has a much better and matured football program, which includes its league system, it is to note that FC Tokyo, other than preseason friendlies, has yet to play a competitive fixture. This situation, similar to the to the previous match against Port FC, could be something that the busmen can exploit.

And given that Ceres-Negros are heading into this match as clear underdogs, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain – something that head coach Risto Vidakovic could take advantage of in motivating his wards.

Whoever will start for Ceres (with or without without talismanic midfielder and captain Stephan Schröck, due to card accumulation), they should bring with them and lay their best ever game on to the pitch of the Ajinomoto Stadium. If they ever execute that to a tee, then they have a good chance of achieving their greatest milestone in club history: Breaking through Asia’s biggest league in international club football – the AFC Champions League!

FC Tokyo vs Ceres-Negros FC AFC Champions League qualification playoff match will kick-off on January 28, 2020 at 7PM local time (6PM Philippine Time) and will be shown live on Philippine cable TV at FOX Sports 2.

Photo credit (Ajinomoto/Tokyo Stadium): FC Tokyo Facebook page

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Projected Starting XI: Ceres-Negros v Shan United

With PFL titleholders Ceres-Negros about to kick-off their season against Myanmar champions Shan United in the AFC Champions League 2020 preliminary match, here is how both teams’ starters may line up.

Ceres-Negros FC

Possible formations: 4-1-2-1-2 / 4-3-3

With a wealth of talents in their ranks, Coach Risto Vidakovic will have several options leading to some tough choices for his starters. But the busmen’s mentor might opt for a tried and tested midfield with a few changes up front given the club’s attacking reinforcements and the backline with Junior Muñoz and Jeffrey Christiaens’ return to fitness.

With a loaded squad, substitutions will be crucial for Ceres when it comes to the needed adjustments based on how the tie will pan out in the latter stages.

Shan United FC

Possible formations: 4-3-1-2/4-3-3/4-3-2-1

Shan United already played a competitive match domestically heading into their clash against Ceres-Negros and head coach might opt for the same set of starters with Liberian forward Keith Nah as the focal point in attack supported by Zi Min Tun and Maximin providing the creative element from the middle of the park.

An injury though to defender Nyein Chan from the recent league opener might merit a slight change for Shan United’s starting eleven, but it might just pave the way for Kyrgyz defender (of Ghanaian origin) Daniel Tagoe to slot in as a first-choice option in the backline.

Ceres-Negros vs Shan United kicks off on January 14 at 7:30PM in Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Photo credit: Ceres-Negros FC

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Precious point: Pilipinas WNFT shows promise in milestone draw vs nemesis

The Philippine Women’s National Football Team (Pilipinas WNFT) opened their 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games campaign with a goalless draw against Myanmar last November 26, in Biñan Football Stadium. Despite the stalemate, there was actually more to that match than just the result.

Here are some of the reasons why that one-point earned by the Philippines in the group stage proved to be critical, and a crucial outcome that could set them in a good position to reach the semifinals and contend for a medal.

Myanmar were a thorn, until now

At least for the past decade, probably in the entire history of their encounters at the senior level, Pilipinas WNFT has never defeated or even drawn with the Asian Lionesses, Myanmar.

As a matter of fact, the Burmese squad has proven superior with all previous matches since the 2010’s ending convincingly in their favor against the Filipinas with a 2-0 outcome way back during the 2011 AFF Championship serving as the closest margin of victory ever.

Also, the lionesses have been one of the major spoilers for the Philippine women’s past quests for a medal finish with the just recent 2019 AFF Championship proving just that as Myanmar beat the Philippines 3-0 in the battle for bronze.

Now in 2019 right in front of the Filipino home crowd, the Philippines finally earned their first point against the team that gave them probably one of their toughest and forgetful matches – a result that could serve as a possible turning point in the future encounters between these two sides.

Consistent, solid defense saved the day for the Philippines

What may be ‘the great equalizer’ for the Filipinas in this latest fixture is the much improved defensive discipline and resolve shown against their much daunted Burmese rivals.

Despite the slightly tentative midfield and attack in the first half, in terms of keeping possession and creating chances, the hosts’ defense held firm to frustrate Myanmar’s offensive waves as the visitors came up empty handed despite some promising midfield play in the first 45 minutes.

Come the second half, all the more that the Philippine backline rose to the occasion, with the entire squad showing more fluidity the defense not only held fast in delivering its main role but also became the starting point of several offensive moves as Coach Let Dimzon’s wards began to successfully probe what seemed to be initially an impenetrable Burmese wall.

Goalkeeper Inna Palacios not only pulled off some fine saves, but she also demonstrated great anticipation with some crucial interventions by running out of her line to get first a number of through balls that could have been the breakthrough for the opposition.

The backline composed of Mea Bernal, Hali Long, Dai Dolino and subsitute Chelo Hodges, has always been effectively on the alert, eventually negating Myanmar’s highly rated front-line duo of Yee Yee Oo and Win Theingi Tun while Claire Lim may have provided the best individual performance with her audacious long range efforts, two of which either forced a crucial save from the opposing keeper or hit the crossbar, contributing on the offensive end on top of her staple enforcer role.

Such was the level of effectivity that has been delivered by the Philippines’ defense that Myanmar’s best chance came not from their strikers, but from their creative attacking midfielder Khan Malar Tun, proving how the supposed superior opposition was pushed to its limits in order to carve out opportunities but eventually ended up empty-handed.

Halftime adjustments almost delivered a win

Whatever the initial concerns that the Philippines had in the first 45 minutes, most of those have been addressed in the second half and this is where Head Coach Marnelli ‘Let’ Dimzon’s tactical nous came into play.

As the tenth minute of the second half expired, the hosts started to be more settled in their midfield play, anchored by captain Patrice Impelido, showing more composure and industry in working the ball from the middle of the park.

The flanks became more utilized as well, and to much greater effect as Camille Rodriguez, Alisha Del Campo and Sara Castañeda were given more room to create either by supplying the services needed towards Sarina Bolden, Quinley Quezada, and Shela Cadag (later on) at front or crafting opportunities themselves.

But the turning point in the match may have been the introduction of Eva Madarang near the hour mark, who provided the much needed fresh legs and versatility by operating as a free radical in the entire right flank mainly as a winger, support striker (in a more pronounced three-pronged attack) or midfielder, with a few unfamiliar cameos as wing-back – helping out on the defensive end as demanded by the situation.

Though opportunities did come, the arrival of that much awaited breakthrough wasn’t meant to be, despite the Philippines knocking at Myanmar’s door on several occasions as the match neared its expiry en-route to a monumental draw.

A working unit waiting to succeed

With what has been demonstrated, Pilipinas WNFT now is in a very good position to survive Group A of the 2019 SEA Games. But there’s still another barrier to hurdle with a tricky match against Malaysia set to be the decider for the Filipinas’ progression to the semis.

Nevertheless, if the opener against one of the region’s most dangerous sides Myamar could serve as a very minute yet reliable reference in this campaign, the Philippine Women’s National Football Team maybe primed to finally get its first medal in the regional biennial meet that has eluded them for 34 years since that bronze medal finish in 1985.

And if they reach the podium, with finishing first a possibility, then what a way to celebrate our women’s competitive homecoming after a decade of football odyssey.

Photo credit: Philippine Women’s National Football Team

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LaLiga 2019/20: Primed to be an epic one

After 13 match days in the 2019/20 season, five clubs – FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid, Sevilla FC and Real Sociedad – see themselves neck and neck in a fierce battle for supremacy in a campaign that could turn out to be the most memorable ‘battle royale’ ever in the recent history of the Spanish top-flight: LaLiga.

LaLiga has been instrumental to this author when he was still starting to learn about the beautiful game in his early teens, in a place where the most followed spectator sport is not football. With the glory years of Real Madrid shortly before the advent of the ‘Galactico Era’ and the awe of ‘El Clasico’ rivalry with a soon to re-emerge FC Barcelona towards its ‘La Sexta’ season, this writer has been caught by the spectacle and magic of LaLiga, not to mention the memorable campaigns of Valencia and Deportivo La Coruña when the dominance of the big two have been momentarily broken.

Fast forward to now, after being busy with the recently concluded Philippine domestic season and the international break that featured the Azkals’ qualifiers, it came as a surprise upon checking LaLiga’s standings the cut-throat situation in how the competition is panning out, as only six points (equivalent to only two wins) separate the league leaders, FC Barcelona, from 10th place, CA Osasuna, with four teams from sixth to ninth all sharing the same number of points, with 20, separated narrowly only by goal differences.

LaLiga standings after MD13

Another interesting detail to take note is Villarreal CF, the Yellow Submarine, despite showing potency up front with an impressive +7 goal difference, unbelievably find themselves languishing at 11th, proving that scoring goals alone does not define how good a squad is.

Such is how precariously poised the battles for the league title and European qualifications (Champions League and Europa League) are that a win could serve as a big boost while each loss could hand a devastating blow to each team’s LaLiga and European aspirations that all participants are forced to treat each match as season-defining. Never has such an almost equal level of competition at this point of the season been experienced ever and this year could turn out be one for the books.

As a matter of fact, according to LaLiga’s records, the meagre five points that currently separate the league leaders and the eighth place team, Granada CF, which is the highest non-European qualifying spot has been the lowest ever since the introduction of 3-points for a win in 1995.

It’s not just the usual powerhouses now

Another element that made this season more compelling and thrilling to watch and follow is the emergence of clubs which are mounting serious challenges to the current giants’ grip of supremacy in Spain.

It’s not just Real Madrid and Barcelona who have the capability to get a grip with the LaLiga trophy as perennial European silverware contenders, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, are hot on their heels and could very much wrestle for the honor of being the best in the land.

Also, clubs like Real Sociedad, Getafe, and Granada are showing great performances and promise with their squad relying mainly either on youth, homegrown talent and/or scouting. There’s also the re-emergence of traditionally strong clubs such as Athletic Club Bilbao, while RCA Mallorca and Levante UD were able to pull off upsets by beating footballing giants such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

In short, this 2019/20 LaLiga could turn out to be an all-out, free-for-all melee in jostling for maximum three-points each match day with a chance that the league winners could be a welcome, yet unexpected, surprise package.

Hang tight, don’t blink!

As previously mentioned, never did this situation ever happened before in all the years that this author has followed LaLiga, where teams are piled up on each other in what could turn out to be a furious race to the top, separated only by the minutest of margins.

Now, as LaLiga returns to action this weekend with each match having the ability to decide a season-long campaign as either a success or a failure, 2019/20 could be poised to be an instant classic and be immediately bumped up as one of the biggest highlights in the history of Spanish pro football.

Hang tight, don’t blink. This might be the most volatile LaLiga standings and the fiercest battle for the silverware football fans will see for years!

Photo credit: LaLiga

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Filipino footballer Shanden Vergara looks back on first US season with Snow College

Filipino footballer Shanden Vergara has just concluded his first season with Snow College Badgers after ending the campaign in the conference finals of the National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA). Despite not reaching the nationals, the San Carlos City native shared his overall experience across the Pacific and how it molded him as a player.

Speaking to the 5th Minute of Added Time via online chat, the former DLSU Green Archer imparted the overall initial challenges he faced when he transitioned to his then new environment.

“I find my first season here at Snow a challenging and an enjoyable one. Back in a few months, I had to readjust again being far away from my family, playing football in a different country, new environment, new school, and a different climate. In my first week, it was difficult for me to adjust.”

From an ordinary fan perspective, the UAAP Season 81 Rookie of the Year’s decision to move overseas came as a surprise after a stellar showing in just his debut season where he helped the Archers reach the final. But Shanden continued to push the envelope by going further out of what could have been his new comfort zone to test his mettle in the United States after getting a scholarship with Snow College and eventually getting settled into his life as a student-athlete with the Badgers.

“As time went by, I started to adjust and because of my faith in God, I never felt that I was alone despite the difficulties,” said the now Filipino Badger.

Eventually, Shanden made a mark for his team through his efforts – on top of his already undeniable talent in the sport. Such was his contributions that he was even recognized by the NJCAA’s regional governing body as one of its standout players.

Although the Badgers came up short in their plans to survive out of Region 18 and compete in the nationals of the NJCAA after being defeated 1-3 by Salt Lake City Community College, Shanden has a lot to thank for in his first season with Snow College.

“Playing here at Snow has helped me a lot in becoming better as a player and especially as an individual. Being surrounded by people from different backgrounds has shaped me to the person I am today which I’ve learned so many things from them on how they treat football as part of their life and especially during training that they always push me to work even harder and help others who are struggling.

Shanden Vergara (2nd from right)

“Our season went up and down and yet we fought hard and played for each other until the very end but we fell short. Our main goal was to qualify for the nationals but we couldn’t make it happen. I’m very grateful to be here at Snow because of the challenges that I’ve encountered on how I overcame them and especially to my coach Nuno (Gourgel), who gave me the opportunity to play here and brought my own full potential,” Shanden further shared.

With the season already wrapped up, Snow College now set its sights on their next campaign in spring 2020 which will be a set of friendlies in preparation for the actual NJCAA campaign which begins in fall.

Finally, given that Shanden’s junior college tenure is all in preparation for university, the Filipino international is still mum on which will be his next destination when inquired on this aspect, given that it is still too early to tell considering the US academic calendar and sporting system.

“In this matter, I can’t say which school I am going to transfer because I am waiting which school gives the best offer for me. We’ll see what happens.”

Photo credit: Shanden Vergara Twitter account