It was a lesson in pain, agony and anguish. Football is often referred to as “beautiful”, but last weekend in the United Football League, we were reminded how equally cruel it can be.
The Loyola Meralco Sparks got the trend going on Saturday when they broke the hearts of an extremely resolute Pasargad side with a Mark Hartmann strike right before the final whistle. The Pasargad players were absolutely devastated, unable to grasp that they would walk away with nothing after having kept in-form Loyola at arm’s length throughout. A draw seemed a fair result, but instead, a rare lapse in concentration and a bit of bad luck ensured they remain in serious danger of relegation.
The trend continued a day later when fellow strugglers Philippine Navy Red Juice suffered a bitter defeat that made would make even the most callous feel for the rock-bottom club. Global top scorer Izo Elhabib tucked away his seventh goal of the season to put his side on track at the break, but Navy would respond in the second half. In spectacular fashion, Stephen Juriel Burda brought the Armed Forces side level, before Daniel Gonzales completed the turnaround with only 16 minutes left. Suddenly, the Navymen were en route to only their second win of the season, and against the league leaders no less.
Global wouldn’t accept defeat however, and they were level five minutes later through an Alex Obiang goal. Navy was clearly disappointed by the quick response, but with the score tied, it would still mean a valuable point to the disappointing total of four they’ve managed in nine games.
Even that consolation was snatched away however, with Carli De Murga hammering home in the 95th minute to snatch the win and sink Navy to an inevitable depression. It was such a cruel end for the Armed Forces side that battled so hard to try to jump off the foot of the table.
The second game on Saturday saw Kaya, despite not being in vintage form, do enough to earn a slim win against Philippine Army Fritz & Macziol. Having to cope with the transition brought about by Coach Juan Cutillas’ departure, it was a vital three points that ensured Kaya remains firmly in the title hunt.
The same fate would not be shared by early season leader Stallion Giligan’s however, who had to settle for their 2nd consecutive draw. Nomads Auction Manila came back from two down with strikes from Toullec Loic and Fidelis Nnabuife canceling out early goals from Ruben Doctora and Joo Young Lee. The draw means Stallion have fallen nine points adrift the top, a stark contrast to the position they were in when they demolished the likes of Philippine Air Force Phoenix and Loyola.
It will be interesting to see if the Ernie Nierras-led side will recapture their form, or if they, much like Swansea in the Engish Premier League, fizzle at the backend of the season. Time will tell.
In the last game of the weekend, Air Force and Green Archers United battled to a 1-1 draw, with the Airmen lucky to escape with a point. Christian Pasilan put the Archers in front in the seventh minute, but Yanti Barseles’ equalizer 20 minutes later leveled matters.
The result confirmed two things, one bad, one good.
Let’s start with the positive first. United, despite being just four points from the bottom, have proven that they are much better than what their position in the table reflects. This is not the first time that they’ve missed out on a win by the slimmest of margins.
Now off to the moment that I’ve feared was coming. I believe it’s time I say it – AIR FORCE IS OUT OF THE TITLE RACE. It’s unfortunate, and I wish it wasn’t so (especially since I predicted they would defend their title), but they currently find themselves struggling to match the level of those ahead of them. Sitting 12 points behind, and with nine games to go, it seems a challenge too great for Air Force this season, I’m sorry to say.
The weekend was full of intense battles, making it clear that teams are realizing the stakes are much higher now that we’re in the final stretch of the UFL season. It can only get crazier.