Bleachers King: Air Force's annus horribilis

Posted at 03/24/2013 3:58 PM

Waiting for the worm to turn

A game can turn following a controversial call, a goal, an injury or even a mistake.

For both Air Force and Pachanga-Diliman, they were hoping that the endgame result would turn their respective seasons around.

In Pachanga-Diliman’s previous match against Stallion, one where they lost 3-1, the weight of losing and apparent discord was for all to see at the Emperador Stadium when midfielder Boyet Cañedo, upset at a teammate’s insistence on taking free kicks, refused to take the final one despite being implored by Coach Bob Salvacion and teammate Anto Gonzales.

It has been a difficult season for Pachanga-Diliman, in their maiden Division One stint in the UFL. The merger between Pachanga and Diliman has not been easy with the results have been wanting. The losing has apparently weighed the team down to the point where the game has been joyless and lacking in punch.

The match against struggling Air Force looked to be the opportune moment where they could turn around their season.

For Air Force, it has been annus horribilis. The cup title of 2011, while high memorable, is just that -- a memory, as they have been rocked, battered, bludgeoned and shot down in all the succeeding tournaments. The storied line up of that won championships in the last several years is gone. It’s a young, talented squad but lacking in so many departments.

Even before the game, Sgt. Edzel Bracamonte, Air Force coach, former national player and current Azkals assistant coach, a proud man accustomed to winning, could only shake his head. “This is all I have,” he said with a trace of dismay in his voice.

Bracamonte, a frightful striker in his time, shrugged and sat down and looked to his boys, waiting for the opening whistle. “Let’s go, Air Force!” he thundered.

Air Force did play well. At least for a half, they played solid attacking football. This was their best effort in seven matches. Against Global, they were in a holding pattern only going on the counter offensive when they opportunity presented itself. This match they smelled blood where there was a possibility of an upset. They never allowed Pachanga to get a rhythm as they pressed.

The tactic kept Pachanga on their heels. In the first half, it got ugly. Not in the manner of rough play but the on-field arguing of the Pachanga players. In one play, Marcus Lopez picked up the ball ready to throw the ball in when Ernest Appiah, who usually throws the ball in ran up the touchline and held out his hand for the ball. “I can throw the ball inside the box,” pleaded Lopez who didn’t get a reply from Appiah.

At one point, midfielder Ousseynou Diop opted to take the shot rather than pass the ball back. Alireza Jamali and Cañedo expressed their dismay with Diop’s decision to which he fired back, "What do you want me to do? There was a chance! What do you want me to do?"

When Jamali failed to make a pass, his teammates got on his case.

“This is a team that clearly has issues,” remarked one observer from the sidelines. “They do not know their roles or have not accepted it.”

When Diop, on a very similar play that he got lambasted earlier for, scored in the 27th minute, there was no celebration although two teammates came over to shake his hand.

Three minutes later, Air Force’s Ian Araneta leveled the match with a well-played shot inside the box where he got great position over defender Andrew Santiago. That got Bracamonte to his feet as he punched his fist in the air. “Ganyan lang, boys!” he encouraged.

The Pachanga players’ shoulders drooped. Goalkeeper Kim Versales, back after a one game suspension for a red card, kicked at the turf. It looked to get worse when Lopez was issued a yellow for allegedly hitting PAF central back Martin Doctora who retaliated with a clothesline (Doctora was also given a yellow card). A few minutes later, Lopez accidentally kicked Nicolas Leonora on the foot at which the PAF defender fell to the ground. Leonora’s older brother, Neckson, playing next to his brother on the defensive line, kicked the ball at Lopez.

The referee showed Lopez a second yellow, then the red card banishing him from the game. But there was no caution towards Neckson Leonora bringing Pachanga-Diliman head coach Bob Salvacion to his feet. Surprisingly, no other Pachanga player ran over to Lopez’ defense while Air Force players milled about the scene of Lopez’ folly.

At the half, Salvacion continued his protestations to the technical committee to no avail. He continued to rail about spotty calls and poor judgment only to be shooed away.

Pachanga fixed their broken midfield in the second half with Cañedo finally asserting himself and Jay Eusebio coming into the game. They played small triangles with Appiah linking up in the attack on Air Force’s vulnerable left side.

At the 56th minute mark, Cañedo slipped a throughball that Jamali was able to latch on to. He beat his defenders and fired a shot that dipped under Kenneth Dolloso’s arms for Pachanga’s second goal.

They had retaken the lead but there didn’t look to be much joy. Jamali beckoned to two of his teammates to celebrate on the goalline while the others stayed away.

As the game wore on, the nature of the game turned ugly with Air Force players taking repeated shots at Appiah who fell turf thrice.

Pachanga midfielder Jason Cunliffe, who had sprung to life in the second half was seething about the rough play as he thought about retaliating.

That all changed in the 87th minute when Boyet Cañedo juked a defender before firing a shot underneath his longtime teammate Dolloso (they were teammates in West Negros University, Global, and the old Pachanga outfit). Cañedo fell onto the turf and this time his teammates piled all over him.

When Cañedo broke the game open with two more goals (90th and 93rd minute) for a hat trick, his teammates began to celebrate with handshakes, hugs, and high fives.

Seconds after Cañedo’s third goal, the referee brought the match to its merciful end. Both teams shook hands. Pachanga repaired to the other side of the pitch. “See what you can do when you put your minds to it,” threw Salvacion to his team. “If we play as a team, we can win this.”

This time there were smiles that were passed around. Winning does well for a team’s state of mind. They had stopped a three-match slide to go to 3-0-4.

Over at the other end, Air Force quickly and quietly packed their gear and left without so much as a huddle.

Bracamonte, his team winless in seven fixtures and his face pained beyond description, filed out with brooding eyes.