The Loyola Meralco Sparks have a stellar lineup that boasts some of Philippine football’s brightest stars.
In the end, however, it was unheralded South Korean import Park Min-Ho who made the biggest difference, giving the United Football League club a victory in its historic first appearance in the Singapore Cup Friday night at the Jalan Besar Stadium in the city-state.
Park’s goal six minutes into the first half of extra time sealed the 2-1 victory over Singaporean S.League side Geylang United FC, allowing the Sparks to advance to the second round of the 16-team single-elimination tournament.
Making its first appearance in a top regional club football competition, Loyola looked energized to start the game, dominating possession and getting several opportunities at goal for star striker Phil Younghusband.
But the home players soon got its feet beneath them and started playing better. Michael King took advantage of an error by Loyola goalkeeper Ref Cuaresma at the 42nd minute to take a 1-nil lead into the break.
The Sparks looked well on their way to an early tournament exit to start the second half, seeming a step slow in the face of the Geylang attack. But great ball work from James Younghusband allowed Mark Hartmann to tie the game at the 65th minute.
Loyola was visibly more aggressive for the rest of regulation, but couldn’t get the go-ahead goal, making the extra time necessary.
After the break, Park settled things early for the Sparks, sending home a sensational long-range strike that demoralized Geylang, who couldn’t break through for a tying goal.
With the victory, the Sparks will face the winner of Woodlands Wellington FC of Singapore and Kanbawza FC of Myanmar in the second round.