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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
“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.”
Football for Humanity Foundation continues to sustain its grassroots initiatives as they now embark on a route that include stops in key cities within the Visayas and Mindanao with their “Vision Beyond Borders” project.
The activity is a major undertaking that aims to share knowledge to Filipino football coaches at the grassroots and youth levels on the European approach, particularly the English method, in how football is taught to children.
This set of sessions is currently on-going and will happen in different key cities across the nation which began in Vermosa in Cavite that concluded last November 7, and is now taking an inter-island southward route until its final stop in Davao within a month’s time.
Giving importance to grassroots training
Football Humanity once again has just brought National Youth Football Association (NYFA) Sweden founder, Owen Southgate, for another series of training sessions (which is currently on-going as of this writing) for grassroots coaches.
A UEFA B licensed coach, Owen shares his expertise to his Filipino counterparts on the latest techniques when it comes to mentoring young footballer particularly focusing on the holistic approach that transcends not just on the pitch but also including the overall well-being of the players that very much translates to their performances on the pitch and their outlooks in life off it.
Speaking to 5th Minute of Added Time in an interview, Coach Owen shared the overall concept and approach of NYFA when it comes grassroots development of young players.
“The whole concept of NYFA is fundamentally developed to try and present young people the chance to take control of their own organization.
When you see the word youth involved in any sport it’s ultimately the most important word. But it’s actually adults who take control of that scenario,” stated Southgate who is also an English FA Tutor.
Changing the coaching construct: All about the children
Owen Southgate further added that there needs to be a paradigm shift in terms of approach when it comes to coaching youngsters.
“Educating coaches like this, the emphasis is to try and focus coaches’ attention to the fact that coaches aren’t necessarily needed for quality action within the sport, children are brilliant at it already. They are born expert learners.”
The mentor further added that major problems that grassroots have is due to the creation of agenda-ed bubble, where children’s potential are limited because of the belief that the right way of learning is to follow the adult pathway – a pathway that is often driven by grown-ups’ own agenda and personal gain.
“It’s not our right as adults to take control of the scenario in which they can actually exploit children in that process. That’s why we (NYFA Sweden) exist, that’s why we persist, (and) that’s why Football for Humanity exists because it is for extending opportunities for people who actually have no opportunity at the moment, but can have if they actually take control of their circumstances,” Owen Southgate further emphasised.
“…It’s just a question of trust (when it comes to coaching youngsters). We’re educating coaches to understand that that if you trust your children and let them play, all the outcomes are going to be there. As a coach you only need to see the details (in their development) in order to be able to add the layers or support the process as it goes, not to take control of it.”
A nationwide caravan
This month’s Vision Beyond Borders sessions for coaches is a continuation of the program previously held in Davao. This time though is a much bigger undertaking as Vermosa serves only as the first stop in a nationwide tour in major key cities.
Football for Humanity founder Chris Thomas shared the next stops of the grassroots coaches’ training which will be in San Carlos, Iligan, Marawi and again Davao. The whole set of activities will last for about a month.
As of this writing, the third day of training sessions in San Carlos have just concluded as thee team is now setting its sights for the next stop: Iligan.
“There are some places in between that we’ll be going to (which we cannot divulge as of yet),” Chris Thomas clarified.
A major boost in support
Due to the previous projects and initiatives of Football for Humanity that have come into fruition, despite starting with relatively modest resources, the organisation is already steadily getting the attention of potential partners and sponsors.
The latest development in this aspect is the possibility of a collaborative effort with the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines being in the pipeline.
This is just the newest possible addition to the already forged partnerships with several other entities such as Expo 2020 Dubai, Global Goals, One World Play, Library Renewal Partnership, and Waves for Water.
Tackling a bigger issue, armed with the beautiful game
Along with the on-going Vision Beyond Borders initiative, Football for Humanity has just furthered its thrust towards fighting violent extremism and juvenile delinquency, particularly in Marawi City which has recently been a conflict area in Mindanao.
Football for Humanity aims to use sports as a tool to counter violence and delinquency through sports, particularly football, as it continues to follow through in its past efforts in helping Marawi City, particularly the children, get back to its feet by instilling a sense of hope through football.
Back to grassroots football: It’s potential in the Philippines
Returning to the initial discussion on grassroots football, Coach Owen Southgate shared his thoughts when asked about its potential in the Philippines, to which he replied:
“There is a huge amount of potential within the Filipino platform. The reason being is at the moment it is relatively untouched by those masked agendas…
“If you look at the complexities of the western culture and football in particular, the Philippines doesn’t have that kind of infrastructure (yet). So, it actually gives the Filipino platform a chance to build it the right way.”
Owen Southgate also explained further tapping on what his experience is with regards to Filipino culture that could help boost the grassroots football.
“If you look at the cultural idiosyncrasies (of Filipinos), there’s a lot of love, passion and creativity. They are all associative to creating a phenomenal platform for sport, but it’s just piecing them altogether, allowing them not to be touched by anything that kind of taints it and allowing it to grow.
“Obviously basketball is very heavy here, but football is a fantastic sport to make (a great platform for grassroots) happen with all the interest from the outside in. Just make sure that all the resources, be it the funding or the support, go to the right places to make it grow.”
Passion of Filipinos: A powerful trait
Lastly, when asked about what impacted him the most on his visits to the Philippines, from his involvement with Football for Humanity, Coach Owen Southgate emphasised on a few things.
“The feeling, the love for the sport from all the people I’m working with. You could tell in this room at the moment, every single coach has a passion and an identity towards the game that’s way more and beyond the game itself. That’s the most powerful thing that I can draw from the time that I am over here.
“Just like in Davao (a few months ago) when I was with those guys, they’re completely desperate for knowledge and desperate for an opportunity to exercise their vision and views of sport and what it meant to them.
“That’s an incredible thing for an educator to take on because that makes my life easy. It makes my life easy (when I) walk into the room and that the people are ready (to learn).”
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.
After showing consistency in his regular season debut for Snow College Badgers Soccer team in the NJCAA, Filipino homegrown international footballer and Football for Humanity Foundation ambassador Shanden Vergara caught the eye of the tournament officials presenting him the All-Region Award.
The citation, which was confirmed via Football For Humanity‘s social media account a few hours ago (as of this writing), is a testament to his efforts during the elimination phase as he helped the Badgers earn a spot in the conference playoffs (Snow College is competing in Region 18).
His two goals and team-leading three assists may have proved crucial in the Snow Badgers’ march deeper into the 2019 season where they have a shot to compete outside of their region.
The tough road ahead
The award may just be the first step as his potential is finally getting realised, but an arduous journey still lies ahead as his team treads a crucial juncture in the playoffs with a tough conference finals match against leaders Salt Lake Community College up next.
Shanden’s award also required significant sacrifices as aside from being separated from his family, which he has attested in an online interview weeks ago, the former DLSU Archer and UAAP Season 81 Rookie of the Year needed to forego what could be a highly probable chance of playing with the Azkals U22 in the upcoming 2019 Southeast Asian Games due to his commitment with the Badgers.
But if Shanden and his team could continue to defy the odds and move further in the NJCAA tournament, then it could serve as a major boost and validation of San Carlos City’s pride as a special talent and product of Philippine football’s grassroots that may earn him a future call-up, not just with the U22, but even the senior Azkals sooner than later.