Sparks gain Singapore Cup semisBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SINGAPORE—The historic run of United Football League side Loyola Meralco in the Singapore Cup reached another high Sunday night as the Sparks claimed a semifinal berth over a stubborn Kanbawza side of Myanmar.
First-half goals from James Younghusband and Jake Morallo helped the Sparks secure a scrambling 2-2 draw in the second leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium, completing a 5-3 triumph on aggregate for the first Filipino side to compete in the tournament.
The win sent the Sparks, who wound up third in the UFL recently, into a showdown with Singapore League powerhouse Tampines Rovers in the semifinals, tentatively slated in the first week of October.
“This is a big step for club football in the Philippines,” said Loyola Meralco boss Randy Roxas, who is also president of the UFL. “This sends a message to the region that there is a credible league in the Philippines.”
Both teams attracted the biggest crowd of the tournament so far with close to 3,000 turning up. But the prospects already looked grim for the Burmese side after the Sparks scored a 3-1 win in the first leg Thursday.
Egged on by a huge Filipino gallery, the Sparks soaked up the early pressure from the desperate Burmese team, before cashing in on their chances on the counterattack to all but wrap up the quarterfinal tie in the first half.
Loyola had to survive a nervy finish though, with Kanbawza scoring twice in the second half and also hitting the post twice.
“We’re very proud of the team,” said Younghusband, who was also part of the national team that stunned the region two years ago by reaching the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals in Vietnam.
“We came into this tournament as underdogs. But we stuck together.”
The Sparks missed Davide Cortina, Peter Fadrigalan and Alex Elnar, but Anto Gonzales stood out at midfield, neutralizing Kanbawza’s most creative player, Tercio Nunes.
Morallo assisted on Younghusband’s goal in the 25th minute, sending an early diagonal ball for the skipper, who eluded the Kanbawza keeper before firing into an empty net.
It was Morallo’s turn to score in the 38th minute as he followed up his saved header off a Mark Hartmann free kick.