The opening match of the UFL Cup between Global FC and Stallions FC was full of surprises.
First, Global, the defending champions of the UFL Cup, were without head coach Frank Muescan. Team manager Dan Palami worked the game as interim coach until Australian Graeme MacKinnon’s arrival next week.
Second, Global spotted Stallions three goals, before roaring back late to almost tie the game.
In the end, the Iloilo-bred Stallions squad escaped with a thrilling 3-2 victory as the good-sized crowd at the Rizal Memorial Football Coliseum sat stunned.
Prior to the UFL season, Muescan said that he had not heard anything official about a coaching change at Global, although there were rumors. Palami, meanwhile, did not respond to inquiries.
Muescan, who co-coaches the UAAP champion UP Maroons football team with former Azkal Anto Gonzales, had then just gotten back from Global’s final practice, which the team used to prepare for its opener against Stallions. He was quite concerned because his players were asking questions about the rumors. Furthermore, not all of them showed up for practice.
After being beset by these woes, one had to wonder how Global would come out against Stallions.
True enough, the defending champions came out flat. The return of Misagh Bahadoran from national duty didn’t help as the team clearly lacked fluidity and pace. There was no communication with one another and the defense looked disinterested, save for Jerry Barbaso who always plays with a ton of energy. Players didn’t seem focused and couldn’t string up consecutive passes. When Yu Hoshide launched a cross instead of finding Izo El Habbib in the middle, it sailed outside.
Axe to grind
Stallions on the other hand, started out with their motivation clear for all to see. The club is proudly Ilonggo, with former national players on its roster, including some who left with an axe to grind.
The club is known for its high football IQ, it’s midfield wizardry and its roughness. All three were on display in the first half.
Francis Gustilo’s long-range volley, which found the back of the goal at the 10th minute, was brilliant, but not really surprising.
College and regional coaches — particularly Adolfo Alicante and Marjo Allado — usually teach players how to test the verve of goalkeepers with such long-range shots. That much is evident in UAAP football, the Suzuki U-23 national cup, and the SMART Club Championships. And because Global keeper Paolo Pascual was somewhat raw, Gustilo’s strike found its target.
At the 45th minute, Jovanie Simpron broke away to boot in another goal to give the Ilonggos an imposing 2-nil lead heading into the lockers.
The momentum didn’t subside yet when the teams came out in the second half, as Stallions skipper Ruben Doctora scored again, this time at the 55th minute, on another breakaway.
Change of pace
Mysteriously, after Stallions put up a 3-0 lead, they seemed to simply stop playing. The Ilonggos didn’t even really park the bus. Their spacing turned awful and they meekly gave the ball away on so many occasions. It’s hard to believe that nerves came into play because these players have been veterans of many championship games from the time they learned to kick a football around. Maybe it’s their conditioning but whatever the reason, they were not the same team after they scored a third goal.
The entrance of Janrick Soriano, who played for the U-23 cup champions Bacolod, for Global provided pace and inspiration. Remy Sery finally broke through for Global at the 66th minute, on a mishandle by Stallions goalkeeper Wilson Munoz. Izo El-Habbib, the UFL’s top scorer last season, followed with a goal at the 84th minute to cut the Stallions lead to 3-2.
At the 88th minute, Global finally equalized, but a bum offside call disallowed the tying goal, giving Stallions the opening day victory — and more importantly, three points in the “Group of Death.”
Had Global begun its comeback a little earlier, it probably would have not only properly equalized, but also won the game. As it is, they now have to face dangerous Pachanga, and former keeper Kenneth Dolloso, and Cebu Queen City FC.