Airmen spoil Sparks’ UFL title bidBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Air force Phoenix may have lost the United Football League crown, but its refusal to go down without a fight is creating a major impact in the title race.
The Airmen continued their mastery of title contender Loyola Meralco with a 2-1 win Wednesday night that put a dent on the Sparks’ championship aspirations at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
It was a stunning twist to the title race as the Sparks looked primed to winning their first UFL title with a sweep of their last three matches. But Air Force, which also held the Sparks to a 3-3 draw in the first round, had other plans.
Substitute Reymark Palmes scored right at the death to complete the improbable victory for the Airmen, who were already out of the title race as early as last month after a run of poor results to start the season.
Veteran striker Yanti Barsales gave the Airmen the lead in the 35th minute with a left-footed volley from six yards, but the Sparks’ Korean defender Kim Hyo-il equalized three minutes into the second half.
With the Sparks pouring more men forward in search of a game-winner, the Airmen relied on quick counterattacks and almost won the game before stoppage time only for Palmes’ shot to rattle the post in the 85th minute.
But Air Force, which can only finish as high as fifth after topping the league the past two seasons, finally caught Loyola napping when Jaylor Soriano sent a cross to the far post for an unmarked Palmes to tap home.
As it stands, Loyola needs to win its last two matches against Nomads tonight and leader Global on Tuesday and hope that Global and Kaya drop points in their remaining matches.
Had they won all their matches before the clash against Global, the Sparks would have needed only a draw on the last day of the season to capture the title.
Global, with 38 points, still needs to win its last two matches to claim the crown, while Kaya still has an outside chance by beating Stallion and Pasargad and Global dropping points in their remaining matches to snatch the title.
The Sparks, who missed influential midfielder Anto Gonzales, wasted a series of chances as they dominated possession in the opening 30 minutes.
Phil Younghusband had a couple of shots going wide, James Younghusband sent a header over and Jake Morallo failed to get a shot from close range on target off a cross from Mark Hartmann.
Barsales, who also scored in the 2-0 win beating of Loyola in the UFL Cup finals last December, made them pay for those misses, controlling Peter Jaugan’s ball with his chest before firing with his left beyond Ref Cuaresma.