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Young Azkals’ participation highlights upcoming 2019 Copa Alcantara

In-line with the preparation for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila, the Philippines U22 squad, the Young Azkals, are set to test themselves against the best clubs in the country as they embark on the 2019 edition of the Copa Paulino Alcantara starting this late October.

As a guest team during the draw for the group stage of the Philippines’ domestic cup tournament last October 20 at the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) House of Football in Pasig, the U22 has been assigned under Group A along with 2019 Philippines Football League (PFL) champion Ceres-Negros FC, Mendiola FC 1991, and Green Archers United.

Meanwhile, Group B is comprised of three teams with defending Copa Paulino Alcantara champion Kaya FC Iloilo, Philippine Air Force, and Stallion Laguna FC.

Competition Format

As discussed by PFL Commissioner Coco Torre, the seven teams will compete within their respective groups during the group/elimination stage where all matches will be in knockout format. The semifinals and final will also be one off fixtures without applying the away goals rule.

The winning team, with the exception of the Philippine U22 squad, will represent the Philippines in the 2020 AFC Cup. If the Young Azkals manage to win, the cup runners-up will be the ones to be nominated to the AFC Cup.

But if PFL champions Ceres-Negros, happen to win the tournament, the second-placer of the league will be the one to be nominated for next year’s AFC Cup competition.

All nominations to the AFC Cup will still be subject to the AFC’s club licensing regulations.

Young Azkals aim high

The Philippine U22 are anticipating at the proposition of testing their mettle against the very best in domestic professional club football scene. Such an opportunity has been further emphasized by their grouping with undefeated PFL 2019 champions and perennial AFC Cup competitors Ceres-Negros.

Azkals Team Manager, Dan Palami, who is also managing the Young Azkals is using the competition in preparation for the 2019 Southeast Asian [SEA] Games which will be held in and around Metro Manila beginning late November, has expressed that the team will compete for honors, despite not being eligible for the AFC Cup if they win it all.

“I’d like to think that we have a good chance dito sa Copa. While even if we become champions, it does not give us a slot in the AFC Cup, but [winning the competition] is what we are aiming for.”

In addition to the serious steps being taken by the national team for the SEA Games, some of the overseas-based young players already have given their full commitment to the squad by taking a significant leave of absence from their respective clubs just to focus on training with the squad.

Players like Elias Edison Suerti Mordal took a leave from Norwegian club Brattvag, and Switzerland-based Anthony Pinthus of FC Kosova is training with the squad until the conclusion of the SEA Games.

The 20 U22 players who will compete in the Copa Alcantara are the ones already in the shortlist for the SEA Games football tournament and might be the ones who will make the final list for the regional biennial tournament.

The Copa Paulino Alcantara kicks off on October 26 until November 16.

Photo credit: The Azkals

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PFL 2019: Battles still up for grabs after Ceres 3-peat

Ceres Negros have just clinched their third straight Philippines Football League (PFL) title after getting a 3-1 win against Green Archers United last October 12, further stamping their dominance in the country’s top flight.

Although the race for the championship is already done and dusted after Ceres’ Angelo Marasigan and Bienvenido Maranon cancelled a John Celiz breakthrough goal for Green Archers United, here are still some of the things to look forward to for the remainder of the PFL 2019 season.

WILL CERES CONCLUDE THE LEAGUE CAMPAIGN AS INVINCIBLES?

The champions-elect no doubt had, for the third straight time, been in ruthless form as they set their hands on the league trophy without suffering a loss.

However, with the reward already in the bag and still a few matches left, can the Busmen sustain the momentum in avoiding a defeat and achieve the unprecedented invincible tag?

It seems very possible feat to achieve given the quality of the Bacolod-based club, but it will depend on Coach Risto Vidakovic’s approach and his wards’ hunger to reach an even greater milestone in this already successful season if they will continue stepping on the gas pedal until the last whistle of their final match.

And, if ever Ceres-Negros do fail to get a point in any of their remaining fixtures, which team (or teams) between Global, Mendiola or Kaya will earn the distinction of defeating the three-time champions this season?

Now, that is something to set one’s sights.

WHO WILL END UP AS LEAGUE TOP SCORER?

As of the moment, Kaya FC Iloilo target-man Jordan Mintah is in the driver’s seat the league’s best scorer for the season with 32 goals, but not far behind is Ceres-Negros hotshot Bienvenido Maranon with 27 conversions.

Both forwards are in rich vein of form respectively, converting chances presented to them into precious goals almost at will. Maranon though will relish the possibility of getting the individual achievement on top of the team trophy to further stamp Ceres’ stellar campaign while Jordan will definitely try to finish strong after his team missed out once again in stealing the title out of Ceres’ grasps.

A battle for individual honors that shouldn’t be missed is definitely being realized and whatever the outcome, this duel between tried and tested forwards from two of the best clubs in the country in recent times will go down as a memorable one.

WHICH LOCAL PLAYER WILL END UP SCORING THE MOST GOALS?

As of the moment, a three-way battle between Mendiola’s Jim Ashley Flores (9 goals) and Stallion teammates, Jesus Melliza (11 goals) and Fitch Arboleda (9 goals) is happening as they vie for who is going to end up as the best scoring local player.

Stallion may have less matches left in the campaign though compared to Mendiola, but in the end, it all boils down on who can maintain their scoring touch in front of goal.

The feat may prove crucial if taken into a much bigger context, as it may play a role when it comes to future national team call-ups, if any of these players are being shortlisted to be part of in the near future.

Photo credit: Philippines Football League

Stallion dominates, Kaya prevails as battle for early supremacy in PFL shapes up

Two matches in the Philippines Football League saw Stallion Laguna get a lopsided 6-1 win against Mendiola FC 1991 while Kaya FC Iloilo toiled to a 1-0 result against a resolute Global FC in last Saturday in the Philippines Football League.

Inspired second half for Stallion

After a seemingly close scoreline of 2-1 at halftime in favor of the hosts courtesy of an early Nathan Alquiros freekick in the sixth minute and a close range conversion by Fitch Arboleda in the eighth to go against a 20th minute penalty kick by Ashley Flores for the visiting side, the Biñan-based outfit produced an inspired performance after the restart to notch in four unanswered goals against 10-man Mendiola FC.

Substitute striker Chyma Uzoka produced a stellar output with his first hat-trick (55′, 83′, 87′) for his new club with Arboleda also adding another in the 86th minute to complete his brace.

Prior to the home side’s barrage, the writing was on the wall when Mendiola went down to ten-men in the 52nd minute when Franco Dela Torre got his marching orders from referee Michael Barajas for a second bookable offense.

The win puts Stallion in third place of the standings, overtaking Green Archers United (which they face on Wednesday, June 19) by a point.

Lone goal puts Kaya on top

Meanwhile, in an almost simultaneous match in Rizal Stadium, a 52nd minute opportunistic pounce by Alfred Osei has been the difference that broke Global’s gallant effort particularly from goalkeeper Nelson Gasic.

A lackluster performance in front of goal that lacked the usual killer instincts from their forward line, Kaya toiled to convert their chances despite a seemingly one-sided affair as Global focused on defense to avoid a similar walloping they suffered at the hands of Ceres-Negros.

At the end of the match, Global were successful in stymieing their more favored opponents for the most part, but they weren’t able to deny Kaya the full three points and hand them their first blemish in the standings as the Iloilo-based squad regains the leadership with a still perfect slate.

Battle for early supremacy shapes up

With Saturday’s results, a crucial match awaits on Wedensday. Although three fixtures are set on June 19, the match between Green Archers United and Stallion Laguna can be the most telling one as it will determine who will momentarily leap-frog Ceres-Negros and seize the provisional second spot in the table.

The clash will serve as the best opportunity for Green Archers to put their form to the test and how far they’ve progressed this early in their maiden season in the pro-ranks. Meanwhile for Stallion, their face-off with the Archers will serve as their next major challenge in their bid to vie for a spot for an AFC competition.

This Wednesday, June 19, is indeed going to be a major barometer for these two clubs.

Meanwhile, for the other fixtures, Philippine Air Force and Global set to battle on who will get their first win. On the other hand, winless Mendiola FC face a monumental task as they try to upset league leaders Kaya.

Photo credit: Kaya FC Iloilo, Stallion Laguna FC

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Stallion Laguna’s Biñan Stadium to co-host 2019 SEA Games football

Philippines Football League (PFL) club Stallion Laguna’s Biñan Stadium is co-hosting the football events along with Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

In an article published by Philstar.com on the venues for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games which will be held in the Philippines, the 2,580-seater infrastructure in Laguna is tapped to be one of the two which will see football matches of the biennial tournament.

The newly built facility is very much a worthy place to host such a level of competition given its FIFA 2-star rated artificial pitch to go with the picturesque features of the stadium and its immediate surroundings.

However, as of this moment, Biñan Football Stadium still doesn’t have lighting which hampers it from hosting evening matches in the PFL.

But with its planned hosting of the SEA Games which are slated from November until December of 2019, the development seems to be a very positive one as it points that the stadium will be able to complete the lighting requirements on schedule.

Upon initial and brief on-line conversation with Stallion head coach Ernest Nierras, the only pending item for the lighting to be completed is the delivery of the transformers which, despite no definite timeframe provided yet, is bound to happen soon in time for the regional sporting spectacle.

With this, it can be expected that the PFL and Stallion will benefit as well as it could mean that soon enough, once the lights are up and running, league fixtures in Biñan can already accommodate evening kick-offs which could serve as a trial before its first big international football hosting event.

Photo credit: Mark Malcampo

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PFL Team of the Week 2

Four matches involving six clubs in a long match-week, interrupted by a midweek holiday, have been the basis of this second edition of PFL Team of the Week.

MATCH RESULTS:

June 1: Air Force 0-3 Stallion Laguna; Global 0-8 Ceres-Negros
June 2: Mendiola 1-5 Green Archers United
June 8: Mendiola 1-1 Air Force

A dominant performance by Ceres-Negros FC means that all their starters could make the Team of the Week, but with some commendable performances from the other two victorious clubs, it would be fair to pick some choice players who made a mark for their respective teams as well.

FORMATION: 3-4-3

Center Forward: Bienvenido Marañon (Ceres-Negros FC)

Source: PFL

Ceres-Negros’ Spanish forward propelled The Busmen to their second straight win in three matches by scoring four goals as they went on a rampage against Global FC with an 8-0 result.

The haul also put Marañon on top of the goals tally with a total of eight conversions under his belt.

Such an output and lethal performance makes him the undisputed front-man in this three-pronged attack-line for this week’s standouts’ roster.

Left Winger/Striker: Mike Ott (Ceres-Negros FC)

Source: PFL

Filipino international Mike Ott has logged in a productive shift for the Bacolod-based club against Global, scoring from the penalty right before halftime break and assisting a Mahir Karić goal late in the second half.

The pacy forward, who operates wide and lurks from deep outside the box at times, has shown his array of capabilities in this fixture. And although he started at the right side of the pitch opposite an equally speedy Curt Dizon, his versatility to operate on the other side of the pitch, as demonstrated later on in the match, makes him an effective left winger in this week’s TOTW lineup.

Secondary Striker: Val Jurao (Green Archers United)

Source: PFL

Former FEU front-man Val Jurao showed composure and impeccable positioning in two different occasions that led to his brace, helping his team Green Archers United get a comfortable 5-1 win over Mendiola FC.

A constant live-wire for coach Joel Villarino up front, the striker’s abilities give Green Archers United, which is on its second straight win, an added dimension to its offense along with strike partners, Christian Zubiri and John Celiz.

Left Attacking Midfielder: Jo Warren Bedia (Stallion Laguna)

Source: Arturo Rafael Enriquez / Stallion Laguna

Initially fielded at the left side of the park, Bedia eventually became more involved with Stallion’s front-line where his craftiness and excellent positioning produced two poacher’s goals against Air Force that ended in a 3-0 win for the Biñan-based club.

Bedia’s breakout performance as a starter may have given coach Ernest Nierras an assurance that his squad’s attacking quality remains intact in the midst of forward Abou Sy’s absence through injury.

Such capabilities displayed against Air Force also puts Jo Warren in this edition’s Team of the Week as a deceptive midfielder with the license to move forward in attacking situations.

Central Midfielder: Stephan Schröck (Ceres-Negros FC)

Source: PFL

The Azkals’ current captain once again showed his immense quality with Ceres-Negros as a spark-plug and creator either with his runs or telling passes towards his teammates in front of goal.

One of Schröck’s efforts resulted to another feed for another goal by Bienvenido Marañon, putting the midfield maestro as the sole leader in the assists tally with two. Ceres’ midfield talisman definitely earns his spot into this edition of TOTW.

Central Midfielder: Paolo Bugas (Green Archers United)

Source: PFL

The former FEU star and Global-Cebu stalwart produced a Man of the Match performance for Green Archers United against Mendiola by dictating the proceedings from the middle of the park.

His well-weighted passes and overall ball-distribution have been crucial for the Green Archers’ success, particularly in their latest assignment against Mendiola. To top it all off, Bugas’ pass led to a spectacular Florian Pasilan goal early in the second half.

Such a commendable shift makes Paolo Bugas one of the midfield game changers in this week’s squad.

Right Midfielder: Nathan Alquiros (Stallion Laguna)

Source: Arturo Rafael Enriquez / Stallion Laguna

Despite seeing his attempt from the penalty spot saved during Stallion’s match against Air Force, the midfielder continued to contribute for his team initiating attacks or linking with his teammates from the midfield.

His efforts eventually paid off by scoring his club’s third goal of the fixture and making up for the earlier missed chance he had.

Defender: Jeffrey Christiaens (Ceres-Negros)

Source: PFL

Jeffrey Christiaens put in a solid performance on the defensive end for Ceres against Global while marauding the left flank in attacking situations and providing a steady feed of chances for his team to work on.

A goal scored late in the game proved to be the icing on the cake for Christiaens that further solidifies his place in this edition of TOTW.

Defender: Christian Nana (Stallion Laguna)

Source: PFL

Stallion Laguna’s Senegalese defender stamped his authority in the match against Air Force, not only in being one of the sentinels for Coach Ernest Nierras, but he also on occasions been involved in pushing the ball upfield and initiating the attack.

A clean-sheet, with the opponents generally kept at bay, is enough evidence of an immense defensive performance by the backline in which Nana has been a significant factor.

Defender: Martin Steuble (Ceres-Negros)

Source: PFL

Martin Steuble’s defensive efforts for Ceres against Global produced a convincing one-sided win by keeping the opposition well in check and scoreless.

Aside from his expected role on the defensive end, he was also able to contribute to the attack producing an assist for Bienvenido Marañon towards the business end of that particular match.

Goalkeeper: Roland Müller (Ceres-Negros)

Source: PFL

Ceres’ domination of this TOTW’s lineup ends with Roland Müller, who was able to pull an almost complete turn-around from his previous lackluster performance against Stallion with a clean sheet against Global.

It wasn’t an easy shift for the former Azkals’ shot-stopper though as he was called into action in some occasions, forcing him to make crucial saves as Global were desperate in their attempts to reduce the deficit, to no avail.

Such clean-sheet for a bounce-back performance is enough to put Roland Müller as the keeper in this edition of Team of the Week.

Photo credit: Philippines Football League Facebook page

PFL 2019: Opening day talking points

Pro-football is alive once again in the country as the third season  of Philippines Football League (PFL) has finally commenced with a double header concluding in Rizal Memorial Stadium last Saturday, May 25, 2019.

The first fixture, which kicked off late in the afternoon saw Copa Paulino Alcantara champions Kaya-Iloilo as the winners after registering a comfortable 4-0 win against league newcomers Green Archers United. 

The almost one-sided match was then followed by a highly anticipated clash between defending champions Ceres-Negros and a much reinforced Stallion Laguna which delivered on its hype, ending in a 2-2 draw in what could possibly a meeting between two of the three clubs that could be the Philippines’ next AFC tournament representatives.

With four of the total seven teams already done with their first assignments, here are the initial talking points regarding the league after the start of Season 3:

Battle for trophy and AFC spot could be the toughest yet

With Stallion Laguna surprising Ceres – considerably the best club in the country at present – with a 2-2 draw, it is possible that the Bacolod-based club’s predictable domination of seasons past could be coming to an end.

Although The Busmen are still being tipped to win this season for the first and outright AFC Champions League or AFC Cup berth, Coach Risto Vidakovic’s men could be pushed to the limit to wrest their third PFL trophy, with a slim chance of even coming up short it if they slip up in the same way as they have shown in the draw against Stallion.

With Coach Ernest Nierras’ Biñan-based club hungry to build a run of positive results after two seasons of inconsistencies, add to that Coach Noel Marcaida and his Kaya-Iloilo wards’ drive to be back in the continental stage after falling short in surviving the 2019 AFC Cup group stage, Ceres should be wary of their backs as they attempt to maintain the pace and keep setting the standard in Philippine club football, particularly their continental ambitions.

TV would still help a lot (on top of livestream)

It is such a shame that the scintillating match between Ceres and Stallion flew under the radar for the most part due to unavailability of traditional live media such as TV and radio. Same thing with the quality of Kaya Iloilo and the potential of Green Archers United that were shown during the earlier fixture.

But given the situation with the PFL being revived in haste due to valid circumstances that significantly delayed the season’s start, a TV (or even radio) deal is yet to be confirmed.

Yes, livestream on the internet has been a very helpful form to fill the void, but the medium still has some limitations that limit the matches’ full accessibility to the masses particularly to the fanbases outside Metro Manila such as Bacolod and Iloilo (even Biñan to an extent).

Hopefully, a reasonable TV deal could be ironed out and matches will be aired soon.

Interesting campaigns for newcomers and rebuilding clubs

Despite Green Archers United turning out to be on the receiving end of a comprehensive 4-0 beating at the hands of “Man of the Match” Jordan Mintah and the rest of Kaya, the vanquished squad actually showed glimpses of their quality and potential particularly in the second half.

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Head Coach Joel Villarino’s wards could actually face a much realistic litmus test in this league when they face co-league debutants Air Force and Mendiola FC 1991, as well as a rebuilding Global Makati (which they face on May 29).

At the moment (on paper at least), there seems to be a demarcation line on the quality of the pool of competitors in the PFL as the most probable top three (Ceres, Kaya and Stallion) would likely pull away from the rest of the pack in their quest for the trophy and a continental berth, while the four new and rebuilding clubs would battle it out for the honor of being the best of the rest.

It would be very much welcome if this assumed gap in quality be proven wrong as the season comes to a conclusion, and at least one of the four aforementioned clubs predicted to be in the bottom four would end up in the top three. But for now, it is just refreshing to see these league newcomers, yet established names in the Philippine footballing community, compete in the top flight and show their distinct styles of play.

Photo credit: PFL

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Stallion Laguna reveals 26-man squad for 2019 season

Stallion Laguna Head Coach, Ernest Nierras, made known in the afternoon of January 31, the list of players who will comprise the upcoming season’s squad.

Familiar names remain with the addition of solid reinforcements as Azkals goalkeeper Patrick Deyto probably the biggest coup for Stallion which may have finally got its final piece of the puzzle from a defensive standpoint [although Deyto’s debut could be at a much later date as he is still on the road to full recovery and fitness after undergoing a corrective surgery of his injured right middle finger].

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Mid-week motivation.

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Homegrown stars and mainstays such as Jesus Melliza, Fitch Arboleda, team captain Ruben Doctora, Nathan Alquiros and Matthew Nierras are once again expected to banner and lead by example in their respective roles for the new campaign.

Meanwhile, foreign player Abou Sy who has been a revelation for the squad in the previous season [proving initial doubters wrong after an underwhelming start], will once again provide the much needed space, creativity and opportunities from the midfield or [on some occasions] the forward line.

However, it is a fact that a significant number of quality players also headed the exit doors with battling, yet creative, midfielder from Switzerland Carlo Polli probably the biggest name to depart, along with solid defender Ko Kyung-joon, forward Yannick Tuason, and midfield sensation Paolo Bugas who make up four of a total of nine players who either opted to move on or are deemed surplus to requirements.

According to Coach Ernest, midfielder Polli went back to his home country after securing a contract to play for a Swiss club.

This void is where new signings such as Andoni Suescum, OJ and Ian Clarino, Joshua Kim and Kim Deonghyeon [to name a few] need to shine in order to not just fill the gaps vacated, but maybe even surpass the achievements of the players they are replacing.

As of this writing, it is still unconfirmed if the Binan-based club have already committed or will be on-board to compete in the Philippine Premier League, but it seems that the organization’s stable already set up and ready to mount some serious challenge for the upcoming season with a good mix of tried-and-tested homegrown talents and promising foreign-player acquisitions.

Photo credits: Mark Anthony Malcampo

Related article: Deyto, Gadia, Clarinos in as Stallion Laguna make 7 key signings for 2019

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Deyto, Gadia, Clarinos in as Stallion Laguna make 7 key signings for 2019

In anticipation of the 2019 season, Stallion Laguna have officially completed seven key signings for their squad bannered by Philippine Azkals’ goalkeeper Patrick Deyto and midfielder Daniel Gadia, and brothers Ian and OJ Clarino.

As per head coach Ernest Nierras, the signings have been completed as of January 29, 2019.

Patrick Deyto joins from Davao Aguilas FC. Patrick has had a stellar showing the past two PFL seasons with Global Cebu and Davao Aguilas in 2017 and 2018 seasons, respectively. He also suited up for the Azkals in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, playing between the posts in the second leg of the semifinal match against Vietnam.

However, a chronic fracture dislocation in Patrick’s right middle finger prompted a corrective surgery which ruled him out of the 2019 Asian Cup. He is still on the road to recovery as of this moment.

Midfielder Daniel Gadia also joins in from Davao Aguilas. he has been a stalwart for the club and had commendable stints as well with Global Cebu and FC Meralco Manila before heading south of the metro. He is a product of the University of the Philippines where he was able to enjoy a highly successful collegiate career in the UAAP.

OJ Clarino was initially signed in the second half of the previous PFL season by Stallion, but it seems this season is when he will formally suit up after recovering from a lengthy knee injury, while Ian Clarino joins in after having a stellar collegiate career in the UAAP for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons under coach Anto Gonzales.

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Mid-week motivation.

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Three more players who complete the seven key acquisitions are: South Koreans Joshua Kim and Kim Donghyeon, and Filipino-Swedish Andoni Nugas Seuscum.

Joshua Kim is a midfielder who played for Yangpyeong FC, while Kim Donghyeon is a centre-back from Cho Dang university.

Andoni Nugas Seuscum meanwhile, is also a midfielder from Svensk-Palenstinska FF whose Filipino mother hailed from Tacloban, Leyte.

Aside from key signings, an important addition to head coach Ernest Nierras’ wards is Selu Lozano of Makati Football Club [MFC], who joins in as more than just a player.

“Selu Lozano will be joining Stallion as a player as well as a corporate partner. MFC will be merging with Stallion Youth Academy and will be named Stallion MFC Youth Academy,” shared Coach Ernest in an interview.

Stallion Laguna FC will soon release their complete lineup for the 2019 campaign.