Wide open title race seen in PFF-Smart club championship
MANILA, Philippines – With two of the United Football League’s recent champions already out, the Philippine Football Federation-Smart National Club Championship title is now a wide open race as the Final Four gets underway this weekend.
All eyes will be on giant-killer Ceres, the only non-UFL squad remaining left in the tournament. The Negros-based football club will be looking to add UFL powerhouse Kaya in its list of ‘giant’ victims when they collide 4pm tomorrow at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Ceres beat UFL Cup champion Stallion and league champion Global in similar stunning 1-0 wins along the way to reach this far.
“I hope we’ll do it again. We’ll try our best for the sake of the people in Negros,” said Ceres coach Freddie Nazarito in a press conference at the PFF headquarters in Pasig yesterday.
Nazarito has been able to bond his team composed of Negrense, English and Korean players into one disciplined and cohesive unit to become the tournament’s surprise package.
Headlined by English striker Peter Long, who scored the marginal goal against Global, along with Azkals Jason Cordova and Joshua Beloya, and Koreans Kim Jung Mook and sensational goalie Hyeon Jae Hun, Ceres looks to continue its Cinderella run. Standing on its path to the finals is a team, considered to be one of the four strongest teams in the UFL but always seem to fall short.
With the three of its biggest rivals – Loyola, Global and Stallion already eliminated – the opportunity to win a major title finally beckons for the club owned by LBC’s Santi Araneta.
New Kaya mentor Maor Rozen, who replaced Kyle Alvarez at the helm, has squeezed out the best from the squad that is reeling from the loss of former Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo, Lexton Moy, Jason Sabio and Adrien Semblat.
Without some of last season’s core, the Uruguay-Spanish coach now banks on Nate Burkey to deliver and so far the former Azkal has scored two goals in the tournament with the help of young gun OJ Porteria, who killed arch-rival Loyola Meralco Sparks in the quarterfinals.
In the other semifinal pairing, the Green Archers United-Globe has been installed the heavy favorite to advance owing to Chieffy Caligdong’s inclusion in an already potent lineup.
Caligdong, who transferred to the Archers from former UFL champion Phil. Air Force recently, has starred in their quarterfinal win against Pachanga.
Caligdong and Tating Pasilan’s combination will be the biggest headache for the Iranian-laden Pasargad.
The winners will clash for the bragging rights of being the best football club in the country and the Php 100,000 pot next week. Both matches will be televised on slightly delayed basis starting at 7pm on TV5’s Sports channel AKTV on IBC13.