FC MERALCO Manila reasserted its might in the Philippines Football League on Saturday night, beating erstwhile streaking JPV Marikina FC, 2-1, in the battle of top teams at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Using a “gift” from its opponent in the opening half as a springboard, the Sparks, with the win, improved to 7-2-0 and 23 points in nine games, five points clear of JPV (6-0-3), which has 18 points.
The victory also fortified Meralco’s hold on the top spot in the national football league and kept it unbeaten to date while JPV saw its five-match winning streak halted.
The Sparks got a break in the 23rd minute of the match when JPV veteran Masaki Yanagawa had a miscue with their keeper Nelson Gasic, resulting in the former scoring in their own goal.
While it was shaken by the gaffe it made, it, however, did not take long for JPV to regain its bearing, scoring in the 28th minute care of Satoshi Otomo off a feed from teammate John Celiz to level the count at 1-1.
The score held up to the halftime break.
Meralco and JPV battled early in the second half, looking to take command of the match.
The Sparks would eventually beat JPV to the punch in the 68th minute when James Younghusband, coming in as a substitute an hour into the contest, scored off an assist from teammate Tyler Matas to put Meralco back on top.
It was the second time that Mr. Younghusband scored over JPV. In their previous match back in May, Mr. Younghusband accounted for the winning goal in their 1-0 victory.
The Mariquenos tried to mount a comeback thereafter but Meralco would remain on top of things and to nip JPV’s fightback attempt en route to the win.
Tahj Minniecon, playing in his first match after a suspension, was named man of the match for his game-long brilliance.
“Our bench was the difference in tonight’s match,” said Meralco coach Aris Caslib, highlighting the impact Mr. Younghusband and Ashley Flores had in the match.
The coach also gave props to Mr. Matas for the energy he infused.
“[Matas] plays like a horse on the field and is also so humble,” Mr. Caslib said.
Despite the loss, JPV, which played sans key stalwarts Camelo Tacusalme and Takumi Uesato, said its remains “undeterred” and will continue to push itself in the succeeding games.
Also victorious on Saturday was Ceres-Negros FC, which routed Ilocos United FC, 7-0, earlier in the day.
OJ Porteria and Patrick Reichelt each scored a brace while Stephan Schrock, Jeffrey Christiaens and Fernando Rodriguez have a goal apiece in Ceres’ domination of Ilocos.
Ceres now has record of 5-1-2 and 16 points, good for fourth spot in the standings, as of this writing, while Ilocos (0-2-7) continued to struggle at the bottom of the eight-team field.
SEA GAMES GROUPING KNOWN
Meanwhile, the Philippine national men’s Under-22 football team competing in the Southeast Asian Games in August in Kuala Lumpur already knows where it will begin its campaign after the official draw was done at the weekend.
The Philippines will open its campaign in the six-team Group B along with Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Timor Leste.
Group A, which has five teams competing, feature Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Laos and Brunei.
The groupings were arrived at following revisions made by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), Olympic Council of Malaysia, and the Malaysia Organizing Committee (MASOC) on the SEA Games draw mechanics which were approved by the Asian Football Confederation.
Currently, the Philippine Men’s Under-22 team is in Japan for a training camp in preparation for both the AFC Under-23 Championships and the SEA Games.