Ceres clinches PFF-Smart Championships trophy
MANILA, Philippines - Ceres FC secured their place as the best football club in the Philppines after putting a fairytale ending in their magical campaign by taking home the trophy in the PFF-Smart National Club Championships.
The Negros Occidental-based squad beat UFL side PSG (Pasargad FC) 1-0 in the thrilling finals showdown of the tournament on Saturday, February 2, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The victory gave Ceres, the only non-UFL side in the final four of the tournament, its first major title in national competitions.
Dubbed as a surprise package as they beat one strong team after another, Ceres continued their cinderella run after pulling through the group stages in the Visayas cluster.
Ceres eliminated UFL Cup champions Stallions FC in the Round of 16 and defeated league champions Global in the quarterfinals, both by 1-0.
In the semifinals, the provincial squad demolished Kaya FC with a 3-1 scoreline en route to the finals.
Showdown vs PSG
Ceres dominated the game in the finals match against an undermanned Pasargad.
Some PSG players were suspended due to accumulation of cards and premature celebration by taking their shirts off in their semifinals match against Green Archers United.
Ceres played possession football that forced PSG to resort to long balls.
Marshalled by Philippines U-23 standout Joshua Beloya's calm and collected ball handling, Ceres' midfield proved effective and kept PSG's defense busy.
The first chance of the night came from a Beloya free kick in the 11th minute, away from the penalty area but his goal-directed shot was calmly collected by the PSG's keeper.
Pasargad's best chance in the first half came in the 41st minute with Yaogo's powerful strike from Angelo Marasigan's corner. Yaogo took a shot at the top of the box but the ball hit the crossbar.
The start of the second half looked bright for PSG with a Marasigan free kick going just inches above the crossbar.
That would be the last of the telling chances of PSG in the game.
Ten minutes after the start of the second half, Ceres snatched the game winner with Byeong Yun Joon striking home a beautiful goal in the PSG's penalty area.
PSG tried to salvage a goal at the last minutes of the game and push for extra time but Ceres' sturdy defense and dynamo of a midfield kept the ball out of their possession until the final whistle, securing victory.
Unexpected campaign but a well-deserved victory
The championship put Ceres at the top by becoming the best football club in the country.
Ceres coach Freddie Lazarite said that the whole campaign was unexpected but they feel that the victory and the championship were both well-deserved.
"We didn't expect the win against these other teams but we followed our game plan, believed in our players and played the game beautifully," Lazarite said on the sidelines of the tournament's semifinal press conference.
Lazarite fondly recounted that they did not expect the campaign to be this successful when asked about their preparations for the tournament.
"We did not expect this whole victory. The foreigners in our team are students from Negros and we just invited them to join the team. We did not even expect the win against Stallions. If we lost to (Stallions in the Round of 16), we would have sent our foreign players back to their countries," Lazarite mentioned.
The win also magnified the clamor for Ceres to join the UFL to add more spice to the league.
Asked about this issue, Ceres officials said that they will ask the management of their club but it might take time as it should be planned thoroughly.
Individual and team awards
Ceres took most of the individual trophies, bagging 4 out of 5 awards.
Goalkeeper Jae Hun Hyeon took home the Golden Glove Award while teammates Keon Hyeong Park, Joshua Beloya and Byeong Jun Yoon grabbed the Best Defender, Best Midfielder and Most Valuable Player awards, respectively.
Green Archers United's Chieffy Caligdong took home the Golden Boot award with 4 goals. GAUFC also took home the Fair Play award.
Kaya FC clinched third place after beating Green Archers United 2-0. Alou Kigbu opened the festivities early in the first half and Antonio Ugarte slotted home the game winner seconds before the halftime break.
Ceres is the second champion of the tournament following Global's victory, known back then as Teknika FC, in the first edition. - Rappler.com