AFC Cup Preview: JDT v Global, Ceres v Felda

Its Philippines versus Malaysia this week in the 2017 AFC Cup and nothing but fireworks are expected in both ties. Johor Darul Ta’zim will host Global Cebu in Johor on March 14 while Ceres-Negros will face FELDA United in Bacolod the day after.

JDT v Global

Malaysia Super League Champions Johor Darul Ta’zim will meet United Football League Champions Global Cebu FC in a Group F tie on Tuesday. It will be the first meeting of both squads in AFC competition with the top spot for Group F will be at stake. Global is still perfect after two matches highlighted by their recent 2-0 win against Boeung Ket Ankor in Phnom Penh. JDT played its reserve unit in match day 2 and settled for a 1-1 draw with ten men against Magwe in Yangon and the Malaysian champions are out to recoup lost points in this tight race to the top.

With JDT expected to bring out its best eleven, interesting individual battles will be seen throughout the match. Philippine International Misagh Bahadoran and Trinidadian Darryl Roberts and will have to deal with the defensive partnership of Malaysia’s Junior Eldstal and Brazilian Marcos Antonio. Former Azkal Paul Mulders will be pitted against former Malaysia Captain Safiq Rahim in a key battle in midfield. Global’s Amani Aguinaldo and Brazilian Wesley dos Santos will have a tough task ahead against Hazwan Bakri and Argentinian Gabriel Guerra.

JDT last played a Philippine squad in Kaya FC with a 7-2 trashing at Larkin stadium in the Round of 16 of the 2016 AFC Cup. Global is keen to improve its record in the AFC Cup against Malaysian teams after getting double 0-0 draws against Pahang in the 2015 edition. Though pundits have marked JDT as the favorites in this match, Global is keen for an upset in front of the Johor fans. The match will kickoff at 845pm in Johor.

Ceres vs Felda

Ceres-Negros FC will host Felda United in Match Day 3 of Group G in the AFC Cup. Ceres has just come-off from a 5-0 win against Tampines Rovers which elevated them into first spot in the group. Felda almost came off with its first win against Hanoi at the Shah Alam stadium but the Vietnamese squad came up with a last minute goal for the 1-1draw. Both squads qualified for the group stages of the tournament after placing second in their respective leagues last year.

Ceres has had a history of tough matches against Malaysian clubs especially against Selangor in last year’s AFC Cup. Their opening match in Bacolod saw Selangor scoring first with a brilliant free kick from Hafiz Kamal until Ceres equalized late with a Stephan Schrock strike. Both teams played the second leg in the Selayang Municipal Stadium where Ceres forced a 0-0 draw which consequently allowed them to qualify for the Round of Sixteen of the 2016 AFC Cup.

The tie will feature a new challenge for both squads in all areas of the pitch. Fernando Ceres’ Spaniards Rodriguez and Bienvenido Maranon will slug it out with central defenders in Lebanese Mootaz Jounaidi and Malaysian legend Shukor Adan. Manny Ott will have to deal with Scottish-Malaysian defensive midfielder Stuart Wark in the midfield. Argentinean striker Lucas Cano and Liberian Zah Krangar will be a handful for Carli de Murga and Super Herrera.

The Bacolod squad will gun for a second straight victory but the visitors are fully aware that a win is the only way for them to reach the next round of the tournament. A capacity crowd is again expected at the Panaad Stadium to support the home team. The match will be aired at 7PM on Wednesday.

Photos from AFC Cup/Lagardere Sports

Global, Ceres face uphill climb to AFC Cup final

Filipino clubs Global FC and Ceres-Negros FC will have a more challenging path towards the final of Asia’s second-tier club football tournament after recent changes in its competition format.

ceres-global-ufl-cup-2016

The AFC Cup has since deviated from its usual east-west format to a new zonal one which will feature five different zones across Asia namely: West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, ASEAN, and East Asia. West Asia and ASEAN Zones will have three groups while the rest will only have one each.  The new format also allows more teams to join the group stage, with this years competition having 34 teams and possibly stretching it to 36 in the future.

Next round qualification will also be different this year as the tournament will name Zonal winners who will move on to the latter rounds of the competition. With Global and Ceres both in the ASEAN groups, they will have to be the top teams of their group or be the best runner up of the three groups to qualify for the four-team ASEAN Zonal semi final.

The Filipino clubs will need to endure a two-legged zonal semifinal and another two-legged zonal final in order to win the ASEAN Zone, unlike other groups which only need to top the group stage to be declared zone winners. The West Asia Zone, which also has the groups, will also need a zonal semi-final and final but the West Asia winners have the incentive to go straight to the AFC Cup final.
afc-cup-2017-perfect pass

 

If winning the ASEAN Zone will be tough enough for the Pinoy squads, the Inter-Zone playoff will be another tough nut to crack as they will have to face the other well-rested zonal winners who would have played four games less. The Inter-Zone playoffs will entail another level of two-legged semifinal and final matches before the remaining AFC Cup finalist is declared.

For this years tournament, East Asia will have the shortest path to the tournament needing only to get results in 8 games to reach the final as they have only three participants in their group. They are followed by West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia with 10 games while ASEAN will need to hurdle 14 games before doing so.

The lack of domestic competition will be a big challenge in Ceres and Global’s AFC Cup campaign as top squads from other ASEAN nations are already 5-6 games in their domestic campaigns. With the Philippines Football League still in the works, both teams need to shake their cobwebs fast to match the pace of their opponents. Kaya and Ceres’ good performance in AFC Cup group stages was attributed to both teams playing in the UFL Cup which started a few weeks before the AFC tournament last year.

Nevertheless, both teams will be eager to eclipse the historic round of 16 achievement of 2016. AFC Cup action starts on February 21 with Global facing Myanmar champions Magwe in Rizal Memorial while Ceres will travel to Vietnam to play juggernaut Hanoi FC.

2016 UFL Cup Final Preview: Ceres-La Salle FC vs Global FC

Photo from United Football League Philippines (www.uflph.com)

CER: Manny Ott, Sang Min Kim, Louie Michael Casas
GLO: Serge Kaole, Daisuke Sato, Milan Nikolic

Key Match-ups:
Manny Ott v Matt Hartmann
Sang Min Kim v Omid Nazari
Patrick Reichelt v Daisuke Sato
Adrian Gallardo v Milan Nikolic

Suspensions: None

Manny Ott slayed the midfield of Tampines Rovers leaving his counterparts with no choice but to be extra physical with the Azkals midfielder. Sang Min’s consistent play has earned him the captains badge this season. His presence in the middle makes it difficult for opponents to win battles in the air and his length allows him to make impossible tackles. Casas has been on a tear lately, bringing his team to the final with his timely saves.

Kaole is the man of the hour. His performance in the quarterfinals as a a substitute earned him a start and a goal in the semifinals. Sato has been playing his best after his return from Japan, carrying it over to the Global and the Azkals. Nikolic’s composure and presence in the middle has been the reason for Global having the best defense this UFL Cup.

Ceres had a fine performance in the semifinal except for the except for avoidable defensive errors that cost them goals. They have corrected this in the AFC cup where they only conceded a goal from a pretty wicked deflection. The Bacolod-squad will only be less than four days removed from their AFC Cup tie and their fitness may be in question. They have however pulled off two wins from competitive matches which gives them the momentum in this match-up.

The Leyte FA squad are well rested having ten games off from UFL Cup action and will be favorites if the game extends to more than ninety minutes. Their Jekyll and Hyde offense this cup season must come-alive in order to bag the Cup. Global has never conceded more than one goal in this tournament. A key stat that has kept them afloat when their offense have betrayed them in some games.

Advantage: Global FC

2016 UFL Cup Semifinals Preview

Stallion FC vs Global FC

Players to watch:
STA: Jordan Mintah, Balot Doctora, Ref Cuaresma
GLO: Arthur Kouassi, Serge Kaole, Milan Nikolic

Jordan Mintah came to the quarterfinals with a different mindset, a playmaking one.  The Ghanian did have his fair share of shots but his passing proved to be the difference allowing his teammates to score the crucial goals.  Balot Doctora assisted on the opening goal and scored on the second while getting kicked in the face.  The veteran has played well of late but an injury setback might cause his absence in the semis.  Expect greenhorn Jim Flores to take on an expanded load in his absence.  Ref Cuaresma saved his team from extra time in the quarters and he would need to do it again and more against Global.

Arthur Kouassi was the hero for Global, stepping in and scoring when his team needed the most after being a man down because of Omid Nazari’s sending off.  Kouassi will now be tipped to replace Nazari up front in the semis to test the Stallion backline.  Serge Kaole was super sub in the semis, bringing in the right energy to a rather lackluster Global midfield. Milan Nikolic kept the ship afloat with his steady backline presence eliminating most of the threats that came his way.

Stallion is still unbeaten in the tournament and the test against Green Archers was the first of many if they push through and lift the Cup.  Their defense is suspect, allowing two quality goals from Chieffy Caligdong.  Global meanwhile seems to have a split personality, only picking games where they show their best.  Their match against JP Voltes was a sample of that behavior where they struggled at most parts especially at midfield.  Stallion has the the hard-working players in midfield who take advantage and turn this semifinal to their favor.  However, Global has the advantage in this matchup after having a more consistent backline which did not concede even with the disadvantage.

Advantage: Global FC

 

Ceres-La Salle FC vs Kaya FC

Players to watch:
CER: Adrian Gallardo, Manny Ott, Jeffrey Christaens
KAY: Robert Lopez-Mendy, Joven Bedic, Louis Clark

Robert Lopez-Mendy was a man on a mission in the quarterfinals.  Having missed out on AFC Cup action to documentation issues, the Senegalese player had some unlucky misses upfront but his persistence bore fruit in the end with the winning goal. Joven Bedic has been in fine form this year, playing well in the AFC Cup matches and in the domestic tournament.  The homegrown attacker created plenty of chances and also had some of his own against Loyola.  Louis Clark, who is still recovering from a leg injury, soldiered-on and brought his attacking flair in the second half that almost got him on the score-sheet.  His presence alone stretched the Loyola defense allowing Lopez-Mendy space to score the winner.

Adrian Gallardo played a full game against Forza last Sunday, a necessary move after not playing for a whole two weeks.  The Spanish striker had his moments, scoring a goal, but mainly deferred to his teammates the whole game.  Manny Ott was not present in the quarterfinals, but his performance against North Korea is something to gravely considered as he dominated in the middle of the pitch.  Jeffrey Christaens is in inspired form as of late after the birth of his newborn son.  He was all over the place against Forza, scoring the opener and delivering the next two, and is expected to ride the momentum in the remaining games.

Kaya had the gritty display any football fan would ask from his or her team.  The LBC-backed squad was very unlucky on the offense but was fortunate enough to be extremely lucky on the defense.  Ceres didn’t need the same amount of luck as it breezed through their opponents.

Both teams have had a spectacular first-round form in Asian competition and the UFL Cup Semifinal will decide on who is the better Philippine representative for the AFC Cup.  Ceres is well rested and eager to get back at their tormentors in 2015 while Kaya pushed to their team the limit to get a place in the semifinal.  Ceres will have the slight advantage in this matchup having rested most of its players who are injured or were called for national duty.

Advantage: Ceres-La Salle FC

All Photos are courtesy of the United Football League (www.uflph.com)

2016 UFL Cup Quarterfinals Preview

Stallion FC vs Green Archers FC

Players to watch:
STA: Jordan Mintah, Fitch Arboleda, Balot Doctora
GAU: Chieffy Caligdong, Gary Epesso, Lee Joo Young

Jordan Mintah is still a reliable goal scoring machine and together with new attacking options in Josh Beloya and Ashley Flores, Stallion will be a different animal to match up with in the quarterfinals. Chieffy Caligdong is leading the way for the Archers as the team’s spark plug, ably supported by influential players such as Garry Epesso and Lee Joo Young. Lee has been playing a more central role, far from his usual wing role while Epesso is the new target man filling in for the spot vacated by Rober Lopez-Mendy.

Stallion has breezed through the competition, topping Group A with an unblemished record of five wins and zero losses. The Gilligans-backed squad had their toughest challenge in the first week against Kaya, scoring a slim 1-0 victory. After which, they completed the eliminations with big wins against lesser squads.

The Archers meanwhile had a difficult elimination round having to face Ceres, Global, and Loyola in the group of death. The Green and White squad would often perform very well in the first hour but would fade in the end allowing their tormentors to snatch the wins from them. This was evident in the games against the higher seeded teams.

Both squads have been the standard bearers for homegrown player development the past two years allowing local talents to shine in the UFL. Stallion has the edge with a more youthful core while the Archers considered the veteran squad. If the Archers can keep up for a full ninety, they can steal this game and move on to the next round. With a long break from tough competition, Stallion FC just needs the correct fitness and focus to progress to the semifinals.

Advantage: Stallion FC

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Loyola FC vs Kaya FC

Players to watch:
LMS: Alvaro Castiella, Jason de Jong, James Younghusband
KAY: Robert Lopez-Mendy, Aly Borromeo, OJ Porteria

Castiella is a phenomenal signing for the Sparks scoring plenty of goals in the group stages.  De Jong is his usual tenacious self providing the coverage and physicality in the midfield.  James Younghusband has been a true captain in the eliminations after filling in on key positions for his team.  Lopez-Mendy has been on a tear in the UFL Cup group stages but his team has learned to play better without him in the UFL Cup.  Aly Borromeo has been silently working his way to goals even as a centerback while Porteria has been on point this season with his shooting and passing.

Loyola came into the Cup knowing full well that the extent of their pre-season injuries would force them to field an untested side. This however was a blessing in disguise as it allowed unknown gems like Kou Belgira to flourish while the team slowly recovered from injuries. The Meralco-backed squad still relied heavily on experienced players like De Jong, Castiella, and James to get the desired results.

Kaya was also a team-in-transition similar to Loyola. The LBC-backed squad started a youth movement with their acquisitions and the weaker Group A allowed these players to familiarize themselves more with their teammates. This was evident in their AFC Cup performances where Kaya has grown overnight and now have six points to show in the first three games.

Loyola has the chance to snatch a win if they get most of their injured players in full fitness including Phil Younghusband who has logged zero game minutes this year.  Kaya though has the clear advantage in this matchup after scoring wins against Asian squads even without Lopez-Mendy and Louis Clark who’s still recovering from an injury.

Advantage: Kaya FC

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JP Voltes FC vs Global FC

Players to watch:
JPV: Masaki Yanagawa, Yu Hoshide, Takashi Odawara
GLO: Omid Nazari, Matthew Hartmann, Daisuke Sato

Yanagawa has been dominating for JP Voltes this season.  After a move from Global with Yu Hoshide, he has been controlling the back while scoring goals for his squad.  Hoshide has been pulling the strings in the group stages as both midfielder and playing coach. Odawara is clearly the team’s best offensive player partnering well with Hoshide to score convincing wins for the Japan-Philippines team.

Newcomer Omid Nazari has shown quality over the group stages and was dangerous together with Matt Hartmann on the attack.  Sato has returned from his Japan trial along with renewed quality and fitness.  His return has made an impact after his team started out slow in this competition.

JP Voltes has won games convincingly against other teams but has clearly struggled against the top clubs in Kaya and Stallion.  Global has been on a tear after beating Ceres convincingly in their final group match.  The renewed hunger from Global makes them hard to beat especially in the money stages.

Advantage: Global FC

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Ceres-La Salle FC vs Forza FC

Players to watch:
CER: Adrian Gallardo, Stephan Shrock, Martin Steuble
FOR: Arvin Gaspe, Kyul Park, Rhon Reyes

2015 UFL League topscorer, Adrian Gallardo has been on a spree lately scoring big goals in the AFC Cup.  Shrock has been as good as advertised while Steuble has on point this season for the Bacolod-based club.  Local Boys Gaspe and Reyes have shown that they are threats while Park has been the consistent bright spot for the Alabang club.

Forza has been lucky to reach the quarterfinals as both of their wins came from opponents’ mistakes such as the own-goal win against Agila MSA and the default of Laos FC.  Ceres will have the luxury to rest their players for the long grind ahead as the knockout stages will only last for eight days.

Advantage: Ceres-La Salle FC

All Photos are courtesy of the United Football League (www.uflph.com)

2016 UFL Cup Match Week 4

Things have settled in Match week 4 of the 2016 UFL Cup and the results provided plenty of talking points in the Philippines’ first club tournament this year.

Ceres-La Salle FC 3 – 2 Green Archers United FC

After coming off a tough 2-2 draw against Selangor, Coach Ali Go opted to rotate his players against the Archers featuring a different starting eleven. The Archers meanwhile where parading stand-in coach in Hans-Peter Smit.  The DLSU mentor stood in for Coach Rodolfo Alicante and Team Manager Monchu Garcia who were both unavailable.  Ceres as expected were controlling possession and shots but the Archers were in keen on getting a result to improve their standings for the quarterfinals.  The result however was not in their favor as Chieffy Caligdong’s deficit-cutting goal was not enough.  The Archers will be facing top seed Kaya in the quarterfinals while Ceres will take on surprise quarterfinalists Forza in a month’s time.

JP Voltes FC 0 – 4 Kaya FC

After succumbing to a soft penalty in Hong Kong, the reigning champions turned their ire to the upstarts in JP Voltes. Coach Chris Greatwich stuck to his AFC Cup eleven, a full change to his experiments in the previous games.  Kaya came out swinging and the Japanes-Filipino team just couldn’t keep up. JP Voltes missed their starting centerbacks in Camelo Tacusalme and Masaki Yanagawa to various reasons and it showed in the game.  Voltes leaked four goals far from their 1-2 performance against the group leading Stallion.

Loyola FC 0 – 2 Global FC

It seems like the new look Global squad is already settling in and it showed against Loyola. Newcomers in Kofi Kouassi, Milan Nikolic, Serge Kaole, and Omid Nazari are fitting in well with the mainstays en route to the win.  The Sparks however are just trying to get their gears back after a wave of injuries have hit the team at the start of the cup.  The orange men are awaiting the return of Simon Greatwich and Phil Younghusband who are expected to suit up in their final group match.  Global played with urgency against Loyola, unlike their first three games where they seemed to be uninterested at most times.  The return of talismanic defender Daisuke Sato may have had a positive  effect to the squad.  The Azkals player is one of the leaders in the squad and his presence may have rubbed off the right way.

Forza FC 1 – 9 Stallion FC

Stallion Coach Ernie Nierras shuffled his squad allowing players like GK Andrew Tan and Bo Bae Park to start the match. Forza meanwhile still had most of their bench playing in the UAAP and stuck with the same first eleven.  The Alabang squad were unlucky to lose their starting keeper after a red card which meant that Stallion were gonna run away as winners. The Gilligans-backed squad is expected to top group A arranging a quarterfinal showdown with Green Archers.

Nomads FC 0 -4 Pasargad FC

In a battle of the bottom teams in a stacked Group B, Pasargad finally earned a deserving win in this years UFL Cup.  Scoring against Loyola was a mean feat and Pasargad finally had the chance to strut their stuff.  Mohammed Camara may have scored the goals but their most exciting player in Jangobah “Magic” Johnson is someone to watch out for if they join the league.  Nomads passed on their final chance for a win in this tournament, a tournament that they should forget.  Playing against the big boys is tough and having a developmental team in tow may cause more harm than good to the young players.

Agila MSA FC 1 – 1 Laos FC

The result meant that both teams are eliminated from the quarterfinals.  Agila was particularly impressive in this UFL Cup as they have shown discipline against the tougher teams in most parts of the games.  Laos was a disappointment in this tournament, highlighted by their defaulted match against Forza.  Gone was the magic in winning Division 2 last year and the transfer window this April will be their only chance to make amends.

July-August 2015 UFL Power Rankings

The Perfect Pass presents the final edition of the 2015 United Football League Power Rankings.  This monthly feature will showcase who’s hot and who’s not in the Philippines’ top football league.

 

#9 Team Socceroo [ Last month: #9 ]

0 Points (0 Wins, 0 Draws, 5 Losses)

With no wins to show for in the last few weeks allowing 25 goals in the process, the Paranaque based squad will have a lot to work on for next years competition.  Socceroo will have to shape up with Laos FC coming into the first division.

#8 Pachanga-Diliman [ Last month: #8 ]
4 Points (1 Wins, 1 Draw, 3 Losses)

The Diliman-based squad earned four points with a win against Socerroo and a high scoring draw against Jeepney with all losses coming from the the top teams.  Pachanga has shown some flashes of brilliance this season considering many of their players shift from their day jobs to the league during game days.

#7 Green Archers United [ Last month: #1 ]
4 points (1 Win, 1 Draws, 3 Losses)

The Archers were brought down to earth this period as tough fixtures against the league’s top teams.  Though trailing with Pachanga in goal difference, United is up in the rankings because of their impressive draw with Stallion which eased the title race in Ceres’ favor.

#6 Manila Jeepney [ Last month: #3 ]
5 Points (1 Win, 2 Draws, 2 Losses)

Though falling to three places from last months ranking, Jeepney continued to surprise with their league altering draw with Global and their second round finale defeat of Ceres.  There is still some improvement needed defensively for them to push for a better place next season.

#5 Stallion [ Last month: #6 ]
7 points (2 Wins, 1 Draw, 2 Losses)

Up one spot in the rankings, Stallion will have a lot to think about as points dropped in the first half of June made a big difference for their title aspirations considering they were in second place after the first round.  Though the finish is not what they wanted, the team is still commendable for their trust in young players throughout the tournament.

#4 Kaya [ Last month: #5 ]
9 points (3 Wins, 0 Draws, 3 Losses)

Kaya had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance this period which did not help them with their title aspirations.  The LBC squad lost in their final chance for a league title after being beaten by eventual champions Ceres in their July meeting but their narrow losses against Stallion and Global made it difficult for them to lock the number two spot.

#3 Global [ Last month: #4 ]
12 points (3 Wins, 3 Draws, 0 Losses)

Coming from behind to draw Ceres was a great feat, but their draw with Jeepney became their stumbling block from snatching away the title.  Though being unbeaten for the last six games put them in 2nd place, the result of the current protest against them may have an effect on the final order of the league.

#2 Ceres-La Salle [ Last month: #2 ]
13 points (4 Wins, 1 Draw, 1 Loss)

With Ceres allowing Global to come back and draw them, the title race became interesting early July.  But due to results of other matches, Ceres virtually sealed the deal when they disposed of a tough Kaya squad.  Their final day loss against Jeepney is the reason why they are just in second place.

#1 Loyola [ Last month: #7 ]
13 points (4 Wins, 1 Draw, 0 Losses)

The biggest mover of this periods rankings, Loyola have made a good account of themselves after getting good results and being unbeaten in the process.  Beating Stallion and drawing Global were the highlights giving them number one spot for the final Power Ranking period for this year.

You can also view a summarized table for the league’s Big 5 Teams here: 2015 UFL First Division Big 5 League Table

Hope you enjoyed this monthly feature. See you next year!

By Ivan Gayares (@ivangeoffrey)