LOYOLA Meralco and Ceres-La Salle did just enough against separate opponents on Monday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium to secure the first two semifinal berths in the Philippine Football Federation-Smart Club Championship.
The Sparks settled for a 2-2 draw against Kaya FC to claim the top spot in Group A, before defending champion Ceres nipped Laos FC, 1-0, in the nightcap to finish behind Loyola.
Needing just a draw to top the group after winning their first two matches, the Sparks did just that as they leaned on a first-half lead to negate a Kaya equalizer in the second.
Phil Younghusband scored for the third straight game, while Matthew Hartmann was also on target for Loyola, which finished with seven points to set up a Final Four date with the second-place finisher in Group B, either Global FC or Stallion FC.
The result also awarded Kaya a point to finish with four that kept the squad in second spot, temporarily ahead of Ceres and still putting the latter’s title-retention bid in peril.
But Ceres came through when it mattered against Laos as Patrick Reichelt headed home the lone goal for the Bacolod-based side in the second half to end up with six points, thus arranging a meeting with the winner of Group B.
Kaya looked poised to book a semifinal ticket and end Ceres’ title run after Miguel Tanton put the team up with an early goal, before Hartmann knotted the count minutes later.
So after Younghusband gave Loyola the lead with a low shot 36 minutes into the game, Joven Bedic’s match-tying strike for Kaya in the 65th minute hardly mattered.
"It was a tough game because Kaya gave it their everything because they needed to win," said Sparks coach Simon McMenemy, whose squad stunned Ceres, 1-0, last Saturday.
"The boys put a lot into the Ceres game so there were plenty of tired legs today and I'm just pleased we were able to hang on."