Goals from Robert Lopez Mendy and Tristan Kit Robles were enough, despite a late Kenshiro Daniels goal for Kaya, as Ceres-Negros snatch the crown and win 2-1 in the final for an unprecedented double in the 2019 edition of the Copa Paulino Alcantara that was held last November 16 in Binan Laguna.
Right after kickoff, Ceres-Negros immediately tried to employ a high-pressure approach with Senegalese striker Robert Lopez Mendy even finding the back of the net in the fourth minute, only to be ruled offside.
Kaya meanwhile were caught on their back-heels, defending in numbers, with a fifth minute corner by the busmen’s holding midfielder Miguel Tanton successfully finding Japanese enforcer Takashi Odawara who headed just wide.
Ceres continued to pile up some promising chances against their opponents as the defending cup holders looked disjointed in the early proceedings.
In the 11th minute, Roland Muller landed awkwardly after colliding with fellow busman Dennis Villanueva while saving a threatening ball from Kaya that put a brief stoppage in the proceedings, but the net-minder turned out to be alright.
A free-kick by Kaya in the 18th minute came begging but ultimately came to naught as the play was easily dealt with by the Ceres-Negros defense.
A chance for the Bacolod-based club arrived in the 20th minute with Junior Munoz, operating from the right flank, unleashing Robert Lopez Mendy who fired from range only for keeper Michael Casas to parry the effort and snuff out the threat.
But Kaya were awarded a freekick in a very promising position, just outside Ceres’ penalty box, a few moments later. However, Kenshiro Daniels’ attempt went just wide of the near post.
Michael Casas once again was called to action for Kaya in the 27th minute when a dangerous ball went deceivingly near his goal.
In the 28th minute, Jovin Bedic had a golden opportunity for Kaya with only Roland Muller to beat, but his shot was deflected by the Ceres goalkeeper away from goal.
And just at the stroke of the half hour mark, Ceres-Negros produced the icebreaker off a stunning counter-attacking move, with James Younghusband providing the dangerous cross at speed towards an onrushing Robert Mendy who dispatched the ball into Kaya’s net without any hint of doubt at point-blank range.
Kaya immediately tried to respond within the next minute, with the ball finding Jayson Panhay but the winger’s effort was way high over the bar to even worry Muller at goal.
Coach Noel Marcaida’s men continued to search for an equalizer coming close once again in the 35th minute with Daniels firing wide from a considerable distance after receiving a well-worked ball from Ghanaian midfielder Alfred Osei.
Kaya continued to be unrelenting, with Panhay firing from an angle inside the box within the next minute, but his shot was well handled by Ceres captain, Muller.
In the 41st minute the busmen once again got into high-gear producing another chance with James Younghusband’s cross from the right wing just missing Mendy.
Kaya almost got an answer from an ensuing play, with Jordan Mintah unleashing a shot that flew narrowly off-target as the first half eventually came to an end after a minute of added time with the three-peat league champions enjoying a slim 1-0 lead.
After the restart, Ceres-Negros continued where they left off showing more impetus and verve in their plays and seemingly enjoying their role as underdogs in the final.
With the situation obviously not favoring Kaya, Coach Noel Marcaida was forced to make an early change with Connor Tacagni replacing Panhay to provide more presence and industry up front.
In the 58th minute Kaya showed a glimpse of the promise they can conjure in their attack but a deceiving cross failed to find Kenshiro Daniels who could have headed the ball at speed.
In the 63rd minute, a freekick from Daniels from the right midfield found Darryl Roberts who just cannot direct the ball on-target with his header.
In the 67th minute Kaya had best chance to equalize off a set piece with Masanari Omura connecting with Daniels’ freekick only for the ball to shave the far post and bounce out of danger as Ceres got a fortunate break.
The defending champions will immediately rue that gilt-edged opportunity as right in the next play, Ceres doubled their lead with Tristan Kit Robles putting himself in the scoresheet by burying the chance off a well crafted lay-off from Mendy.
The Iloilo-based squad pushed forth to get themselves a goal with Bedic producing an effort that was easily dealt with 30 minutes after the restart while a venomous header from Tacagni forced Muller to an acrobatic save but still a breakthrough still did not arrive.
Tense moments followed for Ceres, as Kaya came close thrice near the 80th minute mark, but the league champions were let off the hook in all of those three.
James Younghusband who was on a receiving end of a collision moments ago was replaced by Charles Ivan Barberan.
Younghusband’s absence may have unsettled the balance in Ceres as five minutes before the 90th minute mark, Kaya finally scored a goal with Kenshiro Daniels putting his team back in the game.
Kaya continued to knock into Ceres’ defense with Daniels proving to be an inspiration for his team late in the match with an 87th minute freekick hitting the crossbar.
A nervy end to the match with four minutes of added time proved to be a nail-biter with the league invincibles defending with their dear lives, but the equalizer failed to arrive as Ceres-Neros achieved an unprecedented double in Philippine Football’s professional era going unbeaten for the whole 2019 domestic campaign.
A much tougher Copa Alcantara in 2020?
The Copa Paulino Alcantara serves as country’s counterpart to the FA Cup and is under the auspices of the Philippine Football Federation with the Philippines Football League commissioned to lead the organization of the tournament.
Unlike a “league cup” competition where the tournament is limited only to participants of the top-flight and, to an extent, the second division in other countries, the FA Cup is actually a knockout battle royale of all professional clubs and the PFL is planning to apply that essence in the next Copa Alcantara edition.
Given that the PFL is the only league made up of fully professional clubs, it is being mulled by PFL Commissioner Coco Torre to open the Copa to semi-professional teams and clubs pending certain requirements from the organizers.
If the expansion of the cup to non-PFL clubs pushes through for the 2020 edition, it would mean that it will be a much tougher road for the participating clubs to win the cup.
Photo credit: Philippines Football League Facebook Page