When Pachanga walked off the pitch the Sunday before last, the team felt that it had lost the match.
Obviously it didn’t, as it drew 2-2 with Global, yet there was that feeling after they raced to a 2-nil lead, before allowing the Angel Guirado-inspired club to draw level with a series of costly miscues.
So when the Red Phoenix took to the University of Makati pitch last Saturday, the objective was simple – take care of business with a win and top its group.
The “Group of Death” includes Pachanga and Global along with Stallions and Cebu Queen City United. Except for the newcomers from Cebu, all three teams figured in the recently-concluded SMART Club Championships that Global eventually won.
Stallions was atop the group with six points, while Pachanga was tied with Global with four points, although the Red Phoenix still had a game at hand. As for Queen City United, they had yet to collect a point or score a goal, but they had been getting better with every match.
Pachanga looked shaky at the start. With eight players unavailable for the match — team captain Yves Ashime and forward Chris Ojamire were both out with groin injuries, defender Neckson Leonora was with the national squad, Camelo Tacusalme had an exam, midfielder Boyet Cańedo was suspended on account of two cautions, Derek Ramsey was down with a fever, forward Alex Obiang asked to be released, and goalkeeper Kenneth Dolloso was still out with a hand injury — head coach Norman Fegidero Jr. had to move some players around.
The previous week, defender Aldwyn Rielder played right back where he gave a good account of himself. Without Ashime, Leonora, and Tacusalme, Joshua Fegidero worked the middle with Ronald Batisla-Ong, getting his first bit of playing time in the UFL Cup, moving to right back. And Alu Kigbu was moved from attacking mid to join up with Jovin Bedic in the forward line.
Cebu was still without former national player Rocky Garciano who sustained a knee injury during their cup debut against Stallions four weeks ago. Throwing a 4-5-1 defensive formation against Pachanga, the Cebuanos quickly disrupted their midfield play while Junard Aguilar and Ariel Cahilig had numerous scoring chances early on.
With Pachanga battled to a stalemate, it took an opportunistic play by Kigbu to get the Red Phoenix in the game. Pressing high, Kigbu stole the ball from Cebu defender Laurence Gerali. Teammate Ronnel Lagrimas, who had entered in the 11th minute as an early substitute for the limping Shirmar Felongco, raced into the box where Kigbu found him with a well-placed cross. Lagrimas fired away past keeper Alex Buanghog for Pachanga’s first goal.
The Cebuanos redoubled their efforts and continued to mount their attacks but Pachanga keeper Mark Sorongon was magnificent at goal.
Close to halftime, Pachanga struck not once, but twice. In the 42nd minute, midfielder Gino Palomo bore down the right flank and fired a rocket past Buanghog. A minute later, it was Kigbu’s turn to join add his name to the scoring ledger.
When the referee blew his whistle to mark the end of the first half of play, the Cebunaos dejectedly trooped back to their bench.
On the opposite side, Fegidero warned about relaxing. He didn’t have to. The memory of conceding two late goals to Global was fresh in their minds. Come the second half, Pachanga had corrected their defensive and midfield woes as they now took the game to Cebu.
In the 64th minute, Pachanga striker Jovin Bedic scored on a one-touch volley after midfielder Oussey Diop found him up high. Bedic’s strike, his third in as many matches, was just as awesome as the Franco Borromeo equalizer against his side last week.
The 4-0 win allowed Pachanga to top their group with seven points as Stallions moved a notch down to second with six points (2-0-1) while Global (1-1-1) also advanced. Cebu Queen City United, winless in three matches will be going back to Cebu to reload for the league competition.
Fegidero tempered any celebrations by saying that the team did what was expected of them, to advance to the next round – the knockout stages. “We will be playing the best teams now and we cannot afford to make mistakes. But it is good that except for Leonora, we will have everybody back.”