Loyola trumps Kanbawza to advance to the 2012 Singapore Cup semis
by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales
The Loyola Meralco Sparks came, stunned, and are continuing to conquer.
With a 3-1 advantage after its first round leg win, the Sparks withstood the expected and early onslaught of a desperate Kanbawza that need to pull back goals early on if they wanted to stay alive in the 2012 RHB Singapore Cup.
The Myanmar club switched tactics from attacking through the middle in the first leg by racing up from the flanks in this do-or-die match in order to advance to the semifinals. KBZ’s Brazilian midfielder Tercio Nunes repeatedly sent one threatening cross after another into the awaiting Soe Min Oo and Charles Obi inside the Loyola box prompting Singaporean journalist Colin Pereira to exclaim that Sparks’ keeper Ref Cuaresma was like vampire. “He looks shaky as he doesn’t like crosses,” quipped the writer.
Loyola withstood the 10-minute assault before they finally were able to get the ball out of their defensive half. “We expected that,” team captain James Younghusband would later say. “It was nerve wracking but luckily, we held on.”
Just as it was in the first leg match, Loyola dramatically changed the momentum of the game by scoring first. In the 24th minute of play, midfielder Jake Morallo brilliantly found his captain with a long through ball. The long pass from the defensive half all the way to the right flank caught the KBZ defenders napping.
Younghusband outraced defender Nyarna Lwin and forced keeper Yawai Zin to race out and close the Filipino’s line of sight. But Younghusband found enough space to fire the ball to the far post as the Burmese defender Win Min Htut gave frantic chase. The Sparks captain, who was earlier booked a yellow card for dissent redeemed himself with a goal that silenced the pre-dominantly Myanmar crowd. It was Younghusband's second goal of the tournament matching him with Mark Hartmann for the team scoring lead.
The technically skilled Burmese predictably lost their verve as it was Loyola’s turn to attack. “It’s a problem we are trying to fix,” lamented KBZ head coach PN Sivaji who is a Singaporean national who once coached the Lions. “They easily give up. We have to remind them that football is a game of 90 minutes.”
Fortunately for the Philippine side, they would get to double their lead before KBZ rediscovered their game. In the 38th minute, Morallo scored his first international goal when his one-touch volley off his own blocked header found the back of the net.
Morallo, who had struggled in the latter stage of the UFL, was the recipient of a well-placed free kick by Hartmann from close to the midfield line. He struck the header with such force that it surprised Zin who dropped the ball. The Dumaguete-native kept his composure to boot the ball in and send the Philippine section of the stands into celebration.
The goal was huge as it at that moment gave the Philippine club a 5-1 lead on aggregate. It was enough cushion to once more withstand a second half barrage from KBZ that caught a huge break when Sparks striker Phil Younghusband pulled up lame with a hamstring injury and Morallo went out with cramps.
The Burmese got back in the match when Obi found Ghanaian defender Samuel Hanson racing up the middle to join the attack. Hanson, left unmarked from about 46 yards out fired a laser that zipped past a diving Cuaresma to make it 2-1, Loyola.
Without Phil Younghusband and Morallo, and a bench left depleted with the suspension of Italian midfielder Davide Cortina due to two yellow cards and the departure of defenders Alex Elnar and PJ Fadrigalan because of work, the Sparks found it difficult to mount any serious attack.
KBZ pressed once more but Loyola held on. Sivaji’s side finally leveled in the 91st minute when substitute midfielder Khaing Zaw Tun blasted in a dropped ball by Cuaresma. But it was not enough to overhaul Loyola’s first leg lead as the Sparks advanced to semifinals, 5-3, on aggregate where they will face Singapore side, Tampines.
“We lost the two goals but we came here to do a job and that was to get into the semifinals and we did that,” exclaimed Phil Younghusband after the match.
“I’m disappointed with my performance by my own standards,” lamented Cuaresma. “But if the team wins I’m okay.”
“We were under pressure but we dug in deep and stuck in there as a team. We got the job done!” added James Younghusband.
Sivaji was gracious in defeat, “That is a very good football team. One can only imagine where they and Philippine football will be in several year’s time.”
Loyola’s semifinals foe, Tampines, are currently the defending S. League champions and are led by the ageless striker Aleksandar Duric, Sead Hadzibulic, Jamil Ali, and Ahmad Latiff. Other national players on the Rovers squad include Fahrudin Mustafic and Noh Alam Shah.
Tampines dumped Japanese side Albirex Niigata, 4-1, on aggregate, to book the semis clash that will see a reunion of sorts for Duric and the Younghusband brothers who have faced each other in regional competition for some time now.
Rovers head coach Steven Tan who followed Loyola’s fortunes in the tournament said of the UFL club: “Loyola has many good players. They play quality football. I am happy for them and Filipino fans because they are showing Southeast Asia what Philippine football is all about. I expect a good series between Tampines and Loyola.”
Notes: The Loyola Meralco Sparks celebrated their win with a late night dinner at Jumbo in Clarke Quay. After the dinner, team officials and key players gave testimonials about the past season that saw the Sparks finish second during the UFL Cup and third in league play. Their season ended with the team’s advancement into the semifinals of the 2012 RHB Singapore Cup. Loyola will play its semifinals series with Tampines in October.
The team will take a month-long break before it reconvenes for the next UFL season and the Singapore Cup. The team hopes to bring in new players for the next round.
The cards accumulated during the first two rounds of the 2012 Singapore Cup will be wiped out comes semis action that will be most likely be played at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Loyola: Cuaresma, Ozaeta, Gonzales, Younghusband J., Younghusband P., Dorlas, Morallo, Jang, Park, Jeong, Hartmann
Kanbawza: Aung H., Htut W., Lwin, Oo, Win, Hanson, Aung N., Zin, Nunes, Min, and Obi.
The Loyola Meralco Sparks thank their supporters who trooped out to the Jalan Besar Stadium for the crucial second leg match with Kanbawza. This time around, the Filipinos gamely cheered the UFL team.