Mouthwatering PFL Final Four kicks off this weekend

PFL Finals Series schedule

Saturday, December 2 – Global Cebu vs. FC Meralco Manila (Away), 7:00 pm, Rizal Memorial Stadium

Sunday, December 3 – Kaya Makati vs. Ceres Negros 4:00 pm, University of Makati

Saturday, December 9 - FC Meralco Manila vs. Global Cebu (Home), 7:00 pm, Rizal Memorial Stadium

Saturday, December 9 - Ceres Negros vs. Kaya Makati, 7:00 pm, Panaad Stadium, Bacolod City

MANILA, Philippines – After a long and grueling season, the inaugural Philippines Football League season is hurtling towards its denouement with a pair of semifinal smackdowns.

Top seeded Meralco tangles with fourth-seed Global while second seed Ceres takes on Kaya. Both ties are two-legged, aggregate-goals affairs.

Ideally the semis are home-and-away, but because of the unavailability of the Cebu City Sports Complex on both weekends, the Meralco-Global series will be played in its entirety in Manila. Despite this, the PFL says the away goals rule will still be in effect. Global is the nominal home team on December 2, Meralco the home side on the 9th.

In a two-legged contest, away goals is the tiebreaker should two sides have the same aggregate score after the final whistle of the second leg. If the sides are level also on away goals, extra time will be played and if that can't separate the teams, the dreaded penalty shootout.

The semifinal winners meet in the final match on Saturday, December 16. The venue of that game has yet to be determined. There will also be a third-place playoff.

Manila and Cebu met 4 times in the regular season with each team winning once and the other two games ending in draws. In their last game, Daniel Gadia struck in the 86th minute to give the Sparks a 2-1 victory. See that goal here.

 

Global could be battling some fatigue. Last Saturday they lost the Singapore Cup final in the Lion City to Albirex Niigata Singapore via a penalty shootout. Then two days later they wrapped up their regular season with a 2-0 home win against Ceres. In contrast, Manila has not played since Friday, November 24, when they drew 0-0 to Ceres in Carmona.

"On the physical and mental level of recovery the fatigue will have a certain degree of effect, and we have to capitalize on this," says Meralco coach Aris Caslib.

Caslib has a healthy squad with all of his projected starters fit. The only unavailable Spark is striker Dingdong Pusing, who was harshly red carded against Ceres and is thus suspended.

Global will also have a largely complete squad but Azkals center half Amani Aguinaldo will not participate. He is out with a long term injury. Misagh Bahadoran appears to be bouncing back well from both injury and illness.

The match up appears to be a battle of strength against strength. Meralco's three-man central defense of Milan Nikolic, Joaco Cañas and Lee Jeong Min has been a fortress all season long. They must contend with the dazzling array of weapons at Global coach Akbar Nawas' disposal. Darryl Roberts, Rufo Sanchez are the prime focus of most opposing defenders, but Meralco will ignore Pika Minegishi, Bahadoran, and Paolo Salenga at their peril. Salenga scored in the Singapore Cup final.

On the offensive end, Meralco have quality, with Curt Dizon and Tahj Minniecon both showing they are reliable scorers. The Cebu defense of Wes Dos Santos, Marco Casambre, Dennis Villanueva and Jerry Barbaso will no doubt be on their toes.

Kaya Makati and Ceres Negros will likely be a fiesty pair of games. The regular season series went the way of the Busmen, with the first match in May a 1-1 draw and Ceres sweeping the remainder of the matches, 3-1, 3-2, and 3-2.

Their game in Panaad last October 14 was especially entertaining, with 10-man Ceres getting the late winner thanks to Spanish striker Fernando Rodriguez. Watch the highlights here.

Ceres' big problem now is that Rodriguez has been lost for the season due to injury. Midfield dynamo Manny Ott is also out due to injury. The onus will thus be on Bienve Marañon, Stephan Schrock and the rest of Ceres' glittering stars to bulge the net.

Kaya, on the other hand, are undaunted by their lopsided regular season form against the Negrenses.

“In the Finals Series, (the moniker the PFL has given to the postseason), you can disregard the results in the eliminations,” says Makati coach Noel Marcaida.

“It's anyone's ball game. Kung sino mas uhaw, sila ang makakakuha ng positive result,” says the coach. (Whoever thirsts for it more will get a positive result.)

“In the playoffs you will really see which players are up for the big games.”

Makati are not yet sure if midfielders Miguel Tanton and Adam Tull can play on Sunday. Both are dealing with suspension issues that have not yet been resolved as of the writing of this article.

Kaya rely on the strike force of Senegalese Robert Lopez-Mendy and Ghanaian Jordan Mintah. But Makati also has a fantastic weapon coming of the bench, former FEU standout Eric Giganto. He could also play a role in a tight game.

All 4 teams are ready for the matches and have no shortage of motivation. Both teams know that semifinal winners will possibly get, at the very least, a playoff slot to the AFC Cup next season. Pinoy football fans can expect lots of fireworks this coming week. – Rappler.com

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.