|Lock and load, gentlemen. Yanti Barsales unloads at the Loyola goal for Air Force's first strike in a 2-1 win over archrival Loyola.|
This appears in the Friday, June 22, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.
Late Air Force bombardment derails Loyola
by rick olivares photos by mark ypon
The Air Force fan was right.
Moments after the referee blew his whistle to end the grueling and intense match between Air Force and Loyola that ended in a 2-1 victory for the former defending champions, the fan ran down the lower box seats and pointed to his chest. “Air Force forever!” he yelled to the subdued fans of Loyola. Then he made a gesture where he ripped his heart out.
It was true. This match ripped the hearts out of the Sparks in more ways the one. Aside from damaging their chances of winning the league, the Sparks will have several months to deal with the fact that they have been unable to beat Air Force even when they had them on the ropes. And in the stands? Well, their supporters were outcheered by the fewer but no less passionate Air Force fans who bordered on the funny and uncouth.
But the victory served notice to all that proud Air Force with questions about age, morale, as well as their lack of funding and support, will not go gently into the good night. “We want to improve our finish this league,” stated head coach Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte. “And we will be back.”
The Airmen not only beat Loyola on the pitch but in the stands as well. The Sparks dominated possession and scoring opportunities in the first half yet it was the Air Force that scored first when Chieffy Caligdong managed a cross over Alex Elnar that found Yanti Barsales inside the box. A quick turn and Barsales sent a curling shot that dipped under a diving Ref Cuaresma and Loyola went into the half a goal down.
In the meantime, the Air Force’s rabid and rambunctious supporters never let up with their chants, cheers, and cheers. They even timed their ripostes to the Sparks’ cheering squad’s drumbeats that drowned out anything the latter could muster.
When the match resumed, Air Force made their midfield adjustments as they bottled up Davide Cortina who had a tough time at central midfield in the absence of Anto Gonzales who was away with the Under-17 national team.
With the Airmen stepping up their attacks (that got emboldened with the entry of Ian Araneta), they began to probe deeper and expose the holes in Loyola’s much-maligned defense. Byeong Yeong Jeol equalized for the Sparks in a replica of the Caligdong-to-Barsales connection in the 48th minute when a cross by Mark Hartmann found the Korean midfielder whose shot also saw PAF keeper Tats Mercado flailing away helplessly.
Incredibly, the match turned following a missed handball call inside the Loyola box that incensed the coaching staff of Air Force as well as their supporters. A Gatorade bottle and the remains of a McDonald’s cheeseburger sandwich were hurled on the track with the inept stadium security looking on.
With the jeers and taunts of “handball” and “diver” raining from the Air Force side of the stands, the game turned ugly as the onfield skirmishes between both sides got rougher. The referee had momentarily lost control of the match.
On offense, poor decision making in the attack on Loyola’s part killed any chances of going a goal or two up on their rival. In one instance, Phil Yonghusband found Jake Morallo with a well-placed cross and all the latter had to do was tap in with no one home but the latter flubbed the shot that went wide. On another occasion, Phil had beaten Mercado who had rushed out to the right side of the goal but Phil’s shot was saved by a defender who covered the line. In an even more puzzling situation, Phil outran the last line of Air Force defense making it a one-on-one situation between Mercado and him. But Younghusband inexplicably dribbled left that closed the shooting angle. He hesitated unsure whether to shoot or even pass to anyone who linked up in support. His indecision cost him and Loyola as the shot went wide left.
Loyola’s confidence began to waver as their botched chances and Air Force’s increasing sorties placed pressure on them. The late entry of Alex Camara for Mark Hartmann gave the Sparks a dose of energy but the faulty decision-making also infected the Liberian native.
With only three minutes of added time, Jalor Soriano, a late sub for Air Force raced down the right left wing. As it was all match long with the Sparks who would fall to the pitch and look to the referee for succor that wasn’t forthcoming, Park Min Ho fell to the ground opening up a clear lane for Soriano to bring up the ball. Morallo gave chase but was unable to prevent the cross. In a goal similar to the Oktovianus Maniani cross to Patrick Wanggai in the recent Philippines-Indonesia friendly match, Soriano’s pass found an unmarked Raymark Palmes who like Soriano was a late sub for Air Force. Palmes, a former national player merely had to head it home. Cuaresma had no chance.
Moments later, the whistle blew and Air Force once more dealt Loyola a stinging 2-1 blow. In their last three meetings, the Sparks have only been able to get one out of the nine available points. Even the draw where Loyola was up 3-1 with the Airmen stringing up two late goals feels like a loss.
They may not be able to defend their league title that they have won in back-to-back seasons but Air Force owns the head-to-head match up and in the bragging rights departments. It will go down as one of the biggest matches of the season and is one of the perfect send-offs for Caligdong who will soon be discharged from Air Force and will be migrating abroad. “Weather weather lang yan,” said an optimistic Caligdong of his club team’s league season. Minsan mananalo at minsan naman talo. Pero meron kaming tradisyon ng laban lang. Hindi kami susuko.”
Loyola will rue this loss as well as the second round defeat to Pasargad. With two matches left – against Nomads and Global – they need to win both if they hope to cop their league title. But it will not be easy as Kaya is also in control of its fate. Lamented Loyola club president Randy Roxas with a shake of his head, “I don’t know why we like to do things the hard way. But if that’s the way to do it then we will certainly try.”