by rick olivares pic by brosi gonzales
One season later. One man down. Still the same result. Air Force drew Army 1-1 in a hotly contested match in Group D play at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The two military teams figured in a pair of 2-2 draws in their two meetings in last season’s league play. In both those matches, it was Air Force that drew first blood with Army seizing a late equalizer.
In their cup meeting, Army showed greater fluidity in their attack with superb midfield play and in their build up while Air Force opted to look for opportunities from the long ball. But it was Army’s more methodical approach where they worked those triangular formations with pinpoint passing for early chances.
Boogie Margarse had a pair of excellent chances to open the scoring for Army but the veteran midfielder and national player muffed his shots including one where he headed in a shot but was called offside.
But in the 15th minute of play, in a virtual replay of the Margarse non-goal, Luisito Brilliantes beat a gaggle of Air Force defenders when he slipped a cross to an open Laurence Bedua who was left unmarked in front of the goal. Air Force keeper Tats Mercado had no chance and Army was on the board first, 1-0, for the first time in three meetings.
Striker Meliton Pelayo had an opportunity to double Army’s lead in the 36th minute when he beat a defender and skirted around Mercado who rushed out to grab the ball. But Pelayo who only needed to slot the ball into an empty net misfired and the ball went wide.
That brought up Air Force head coach Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte who was livid with his team’s defense. In a simple adjustment that turned the tide for the Airmen, Bracamonte moved winger Chieffy Caligdong to a holding midfield position as opposed to his usual left wing spot. The move stopped Army’s Relan Bretaña and Bedua from supplying the wingers with crosses or throughballs. With Army stymied, Air Force seized control of the match.
Ian Araneta equalized in the 46th minute with a thunderous free kick from 20 yards that took Army goalkeeper Eduard Sacapaño by surprise. The shot cleared the wall and quickly dipped towards Sacapaño who tried to parry the shot but was unable to. One-one and back to square one.
Controversy arose in the 53rd minute when Army defender John Cain was sent off by referee Michael Barajas for elbowing Araneta while battling for possession of a loose ball. Reduced to 10 men and fatigued from their relentless assault on Mercado in the first half, Army nearly wilted under the pressure as their once tight defense cracked.
In the 72nd minute, in a play eerily reminiscent of Pelayo’s botched open goal attempt, Caligdong found striker Yanti Barsales who also ditched his defender. Like Pelayo, Barsales’ sidefoot went wide left much to the disbelief of all players and the crowd on hand.
Army summoned one last energy for a push as late substitutes Champ Baron, Jeoff Lobaton, and Rodrigo Betita gave them some fresh legs but Brilliantes misfired on a close range volley after Sacapaño targeted him with a long ball.
The match ended in a draw that was hardly satisfying for both teams. Said Army coach Ricky Cain, “Yung buong Army nanonood. Utos sa amin na panalunin to. Walang kababayan kababayan dito. Para sa pride ng Army ‘to.”
Cain was referring to the roots of many of the players from both sides which is in Iloilo but the inter-service rivalry takes precedence over anything.
“I am disappointed in the result,” said Bracamonte after the game. “We should have won this pero now 1-1-0 kami.”
Despite the draw, Army kept the top spot of Group D with a 2-1-0 record for seven points. Army has one more match to play and that is against Sta. Lucia.
Air Force has yet to play Stallion and Sta. Lucia.