FAVORED teams Loyola Meralco and Pachanga-Diliman are not out to take their respective opponents lightly as the United Football League (UFL) Cup semifinals kick off on Tuesday at the Emperador Stadium in Mckinley Hill.
The Sparks take on Green Archers United at 5:15 p.m. before Pachanga collides with Philippine Air Force at 8 p.m., with the winners arranging an expected thrilling finals showdown.
After eliminating fellow favorite Global FC, 2-0, in a quarterfinal match many considered as the title finale, Loyola’s path to the title has appeared easier.
Still, coach Vince Santos remains wary how dangerous an opponent the Archers are, especially following their 2-1 victory over Ceres in their own Round-of-Eight tiff.
“I wouldn’t call it a done deal,” Santos said. “It’s just that we came up against a big opponent in the quarterfinals and we were fortunate to come out with a victory.”
“All teams are big teams in this competition and our preparation is the same no matter which team we face,” added star striker Phil Younghusband, who scored one of the goals against Global.
While the potent offense has been constant – as evidenced by their whopping 73 goals -- the Sparks’ defense has definitely shown marked improvement in the season-opening tournament, where they have yet to surrender a goal in six games.
“People doubted our clean sheets against teams maybe not as good as Global. But we proved it with a clean sheet against them,” Younghusband said. “That shows how good our defense is.”
Loyola, whose defense is anchored by the backline of Sam Bonney, Joaco Cañas, Roxy Dorlas, and Won Hyung Lee, and ‘keeper Baba Sampana, blanked the Archers, 3-0, in the group stage, but standouts Chieffy Caligdong and Patric Deyto were not around due to national team duty.
Archers coach Rodolfo Alicante, though, actually prefers the matchup against the Sparks rather than facing Global.
“I choose Meralco because based on our last games, we match up better with them,” said Alicante, whose team forced a 1-1 draw against the Sparks in the second round of the League earlier this year.
Pachanga coach Noel Marcaida is likewise cautious of the competition’s Cinderella team in the Airmen, the 13th-seeded side that upended higher-seeded squads Kaya and Union Internacionale Manila in the last two rounds, thanks to Jimmy Vergara’s two late winners.
“You cannot underestimate Air Force,” said Marcaida, whose squad dethroned defending champion Stallion, 5-3, in the quarterfinals. “They have been champions before. Lahat ng nag-qualify for the semifinals are deserving. Hindi sila mapupunta sa ganitong stage kung hindi nila trinabaho.”
For the Airmen, getting to this stage is already an achievement.
“I didn’t expect we would reach this far,” Airmen coach Edzel Bracamonte said. “For me, we are champions already.”