DELIVERING in the most important match of the tournament -- without its leading scorer -- surely deserves the distinction as the best club in the country.
Loyola Meralco bucked the absence of Phil Younghusband to stun Global FC, 2-0, and claim the Philippine Football Federation-Smart Club National Championship crown on Saturday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
With Younghusband sidelined with an injury for most of the match, Loyola found an unlikely offensive spark from defender Eddie Mallari and eventual Golden Ball winner Matthew Hartmann to blank their fancied opponents.
It was the Sparks’ first conquest of a major competition since ruling the United Football League Cup last year and first under coach Simon McMenemy.
For a while, though, the Sparks seemed ready to fall short in the football season-opening tournament after Younghusband, who had scored in all of the Sparks' matches in the tournament, had to leave with an apparent hamstring injury just 14 minutes into the finale played before a sizeable crowd at Rizal.
Global also looked poised to grab the title after dethroning defending champion Ceres-La Salle, 3-1, in a nerve-wracking semifinal showdown last Thursday.
But Mallari, a recent acquisition tasked to shore up the Loyola defense, shone on offense with a strike off a connection between Roxy Dorlas and Hartmann three minutes after Younghusband came off.
Hartmann, who had been a fantastic facilitator at the left wing the entire tournament, was on the receiving end this time with a conversion in the 57th minute on the way to winning the MVP and the Best Midfielder awards, deservingly.
Loyola teammates Joaco Cañas and Tomas Trigo also bagged plums, taking Best Defender and Best Goalkeeper awards, respectively.
Global striker Izo El-Habib gained a consolation as the Best Striker with seven goals for a squad that had scored the most goals in the competition with 23 before being shut out in the finale.