Rizal-SMART San Beda FC slipped past Stallions FC-Barotac Nuevo , 2-1, and into the finals of the PFF-SMART Club Championships at the rain-soaked and muddy University of Makati football field Monday night.
On a soggy pitch that made it doubly hard for both sides to score, San Beda banked on enterprising first-half goals by Vaugh Melendres and Eliezer Fabroada in the 16th and 36th minutes, respectively, to survive the Stallions’ strong comeback in the second half.
Former national standout Reuben Doctora Jr. scored the Ilonggos’ lone marker in the 62nd as the second period became an engaging goalkeeping duel between Stallions’ Wilson Munoz and San Beda’s Ref Cuaresma, who both made several acrobatic saves that wowed a gallery of 2,000 that stayed on to watch despite heavy the downpour that preceded the game.
But it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Rizal booters after Phil and James Younghusband got booked for yellow cards each and will be forced to watch the first game of the two-match championship series starting Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium from the sidelines.
They earned previous cautions in the group eliminations held last week in Cagayan de Oro, which, based on tournament rules, are carried over into the next stage meriting a one-game suspension apiece for both brothers.
Phil was slapped a yellow card in the middle of the first half for absent-mindedly bringing in his plastic water bottle into the pitch instead of leaving it on the sidelines while James got his in the fifth and final minute of injury time in the second half for repeatedly complaining about the assistant referee’s calls.
The Rizal squad must now await the outcome of yesterday’s other semifinal match pitting NCR teams Pachanga and Teknika to determine its finals opponent.
“We were lucky to win this match,” said relieved San Beda coach Aris Caslib “, and the rest of my boys will just have to step up without the Younghusbands against whoever we will face in the finals.”
“I didn’t realize I was still holding the plastic bottle until it was too late,” lamented Phil. “But the linesman should have called my attention and warned me instead of being given a yellow card outright.”
“That call ruined everything,” said a glum-looking James inside the team’s locker room afterwards of his late yellow card just seconds before the match ended.
On the other hand, Stallions coach Ernie Nierras attributed the defeat to the tentative play of his charges in the first half.
“I think we should have been more aggressive against San Beda early since you cannot afford to take it easy against our rivals,” Nierras. “We were able to dominate the second half but their goalie did a great job.”
Keenly aware that he was closely marked, Phil set up the opening goal with a precise cross pass from the right wing to James, who then flicked the ball to Melendres as the striker calmly stroked it in from 30 feet.
Fabroada’s marker came from the left flank as he saw a slight opening in the Stallions defense to slide in a 25-foot roller
The Ilonggos pressed the attack in the second and were finally rewarded when Doctora struck with a 10-yard volley from an assist by South Koeran Lee Jeo Young.
Iloilo goalie Munoz easily stood out in second half, saving hard back-to-back shots by Phil Younghusband and Jeremias Jao in the 75th minute.
Not to be outdone, Cuaresma rose high to save Young’s booming 30-yard direct free kick from center field late in the second half.