Same script, different result. Ceres-La Salle made up for last year’s cup final loss to knock-out a resilient 10-man Kaya squad to win 3-3 (8-7) on penalties. Louie Michael Casas needed to save Woody Ugarte’s penalty twice while Juani Guirado scored on the go-ahead kick to thrust the Bacolod squad to its second straight UFL Cup final.
The game opened with a goal-fest in the first twenty minutes to the delight of the fans. Patrick Reichelt opened the scoring in the eight minute after completing a beautiful team goal. Carli de Murga initiated a one-two with striker Adrian Gallardo at the top of the box with Carli laying off to an open Martin Steuble on the wing. Steuble then darted the ball far to the second post to a rushing Reichelt who made no mistake in scoring the opener.
Kaya equalized five minutes later when a misunderstanding in the Ceres defense led to a soft pass that was intercepted by OJ Porteria. The fleet-footed Kaya attacker took advantage and slotted the ball past Casas. Moments later, it was who Ceres restored their advantage when Bienvenido Marañon dispossed Shirmar Felongco, passing the ball to Adri who blasted the ball past keeper Michael Acton.
Porteria was on a tear, collecting a missed clearance and curling a shot to the second post for his second goal in the 20th minute. Things got testy moments after when Ceres Captain Kim Sang Min brought down Robert Lopez-Mendy in the half-line with a late tackle. Referee Clifford Daypuyat brought out a straight red only to realize he made a mistake quickly corrected his error with a yellow.
De Murga brought Ceres back ahead in the 36th minute after glancing in a floater from Steuble making it 3-2 in favor of Ceres. Carli, who played his first game since matchday one of the AFC cup, struggled with his fitness against a speedy Kaya team and had to be replaced at the half.
Ceres was very aggressive at the start of the second half earning multiple corners but they were not able take advantage given the tough Kaya defense. Manny Ott tried to sneak in a free kick to the near post in the 52nd but the ball rattled Miguel Tanton’s head instead. The new Azkals player had to be helped out by the other players as he was visibly losing balance after the hit.
The hour mark saw Kaya going down to ten men after Joven Bedic issued a malicious hit to Ott which the referee did not hesitate to give a straight red. The Busmen tried to take advantage in the next ten minutes but they only produced half-chances and forced the Kaya keeper with a save.
Things would change in the 72nd when Lopez-Mendy whipped a long ball to an rushing Louis Clark who skipped his marker and nodded one home to the bottom corner for the third equalizer. It was an open game after that with both teams producing shots on both ends. The best one went to Kaya with Porteria finding some space in the box and shooting just inches wide off the far post.
Ceres had a counterattack in injury time lead by super sub Stephan Shröck but the ball encountered a series of mishits by Ceres players before it was cleared to safety by Kaya.
Extra time was a tale of two halves where both teams dominating each one. Ceres had the better chances in the first with patient buildup and Kaya doing better with counters in the second. Clark had the best chance in the 117th minute when he only had Casas to beat but the talented attacker’s moment of indecision allowed the defense to get back for the block.
The game would go on through penalty kicks with Kaya shooting ahead of Ceres. Both teams where unflinching, shooting all the way to a 6-6 score. The fourth kicker for Ceres in Jalsor Soriano had a funny goal tricking Acton to go right but issued a soft passing shot instead to the other end.
The streak was broken when Casas saved the shot of Kaya’s Janrick Soriano and Steuble hit the outside of the post on what was supposed to be the winning goal. Both teams made one more conversion until Casas saved Ugarte’s spot kick. The linesman raised his flag for a keeper violation but it didn’t stop Casas from saving Ugarte’s shot for the second time. Guirado stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way sealing Ceres’ place in the final.
“We play 100 percent like always and we saw today that Kaya had an amazing team. Even with ten players, they played very well and they defended the goal until the end. They had a few chances to score and it was a very hard game for us,” said Ceres veteran Juani Guirado.
“Last year, I told myself that it will not happen again because a shootout is anybody’s game. So while stretching, I just think like I already know their penalty,” said goalkeeper Mike Casas. “Sometimes hindi ko makuha pero siempre you have to be patient. Kaya yun lang sabi ko sa sarili ko dun, be patient, because god will give you something,” added the veteran.
“Penalties are 50-50, anyone could win. Usually the one yung medyo dehado yun yung medyo nanalo pa eh. But its 50-50 always. I was praying that it goes our way. But I think its our chance now, its our turn to win,” said Ceres Coach Ali Go.
Global FC scored two first half goals to secure a 2-0 win against Stallion FC, setting up an explosive finale on April 16 for the countries’ two hottest teams. “Global is a strong team also, and they beat us the last game so I think this is our chance to get back (at them) for the championship,” added the Ceres mentor.
All Photos are courtesy of the United Football League (www.uflph.com)