CAVITE, bannered by the core of newly minted NCAA champion Arellano, and host Negros Occidental lead the cast in the Philippine Football Federation-Smart Under-22 Amateur Championship quarterfinals that unfold on Wednesday in Bacolod City.
The Caviteños are taking on Bukidnon at 3 p.m. at Panaad Sports Complex, after the Negrenses face Mindanao powerhouse North Cotabato at 8 a.m. at North Ceres Football Field.
The Caviteños, though, will be missing a handful of key booters, including MVP Jumbeng Guinabang, from the Chiefs’ championship side, which stunned San Beda in the NCAA Finals last week.
But Charles Gamutan, a goalscorer in the NCAA Finals, remains at the forefront of Cavite’s attack.
The other quarterfinal matches feature Davao facing Camarines Norte at 8 a.m. at Panaad and Misamis Occidental taking on Cordillera at 3 p.m. at North Ceres.
Another draw will be held on Thursday to determine the semifinal pairings.
“The format is very exciting as it keeps teams on their toes,” Cavite coach Ravelo Saluria said. “We have to be at our best each game just to survive and make the next rounds.”
“We have eight strong teams here,” added Negros Occidental coach John Carmona, whose team ruled the tough Visayas group that included Cebu and Negros Oriental.
“Once you reach national finals, preparation and scouting is vital,” he added. “We can’t take the Mindanao teams for granted because they also have strong grassroots programs.”
Tournament director Cyril Dofitas said teams are allowed to have three foreign players in their rosters that are all vying for the P100,000 top prize, with the losing finalist pocketing P75,000.
Epok Quimpo of Smart Sports said the focus of their tournament is to discover fresh talents who can represent the country at the international level.
“We hope that these players will eventually represent the country,” Quimpo said at the press conference on Wednesday.