The Western Visayas Classic as good as advertised
MANILA, Philippines – The game's entertainment value was through the roof. What an absolute cracker of a game this was. We saw TV- friendly, end-to-end attacking football, with some great goals and all sorts of chances.
If you weren't in Rizal Memorial or haven't watched the telecast scheduled for 7pm on Sunday night, April 26, here's what happened: Jinggoy Valmayor puts Negros in front early, Iloilo's Ian Araneta equalizes, then Negros take a 3-1 halftime lead with two scores from Jimuel Ariola.
Iloilo levels with two goals in the second half from Araneta again (a penalty), and Jhan Jhan Melliza. But two late strikes from Valmayor finally kill the game off.
Don't worry, the UFL's video highlights man, Jojo Lirio, was at the game, and he will have complete highlights up soon.
There were so many chances it felt like I was watching a futsal game. The score could have been much, much higher.
Melliza forced a superb tip-over save from Ed Sacapaño in the first half. EdSa also stopped an Araneta free kick. Josh Beloya, raised in Switzerland but born in Bacolod, squandered a header before the half. Minutes later, Sacapaño once again came to the rescue with another palm-away of Jovin Bedic's shot.
There were more close calls in the second half, with Ariola hitting the bar and Negrense Tating Pasilan missing on two chances.
Iloilo's Fidel Kue might have snatched a late score but his close-range chip sailed just north of the bar.
It was dazzling, heart-stopping stuff, and it proved that in this day and age of overseas-born Filipino stars, players born and raised here can indeed show world-class skills.
The intensity level was also very high. You could feel the unwillingness to lose from both sides.
But in the end Iloilo's suspect defense and goalkeeping, (goalie Kuloy Muñoz was yanked late in favor of Mark Sorongon), proved to be the difference.
I'm so glad that the game was a goalfest. Filipino audiences appreciate goals more than anything else in the game. We are not yet at the stage where more mature footballing countries are, where fans can enjoy a 0-0 just fine.
Iloilo may have lost but they arguably served up the prettiest goal of them all: Melliza's equalizer that was set up by a mazy Balot Doctora slalom that began off a cheeky nutmeg of Janrick Soriano.
I wasn't in the stands but down on the track serving as the venue announcer. But Ysabs Villaflor of the Futbol 'to podcast said the atmosphere in the stadium, which had a bigger crowd than usual during UFL game days, was terrific. I did see quite a few Ilonggo fans in red, but not quite as many yellow-clad Negrense supporters.
But it is Negros Occidental who earned the bragging rights on Saturday.
“Pinakita namin na Negros Occidental ang nag-dodominate ng football sa Visayas,” crowed Sacapaño after the contest.
(We showed Negros Occidental dominates football in Visayas.)
Remember the name: Jimuel Ariola
Ariola's two-goal, one-assist performance might have been good for a Man of the Match award for Negros until Valmayor's late dagger gave him a hat trick.
Ariola, 22, was roped in by Green Archers United Globe this season and has sparkled. Ariola is usually played deep, near the middle of the park, by GAU, where his passing vision and touch can be utilized. But Negros Occidental coach James Dinsay employed him atop the formation instead with Valmayor in the hole. Result: two goals before halftime. In the second half he was the provider, lashing in a superb cross from the right flank that Valmayor steered in from close range.
I first saw Ariola, a native of Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, in 2013 in the U23 national championship finals in Dumaguete. He has blossomed into quite a player. The best part of Ariola, he is no undersized smurf. The kid is international-sized, but just needs to beef up.
The coach of our U22 team for the SEA Games, Jim Fraser, owes himself a hard, long look at Jimuel for his team's campaign in June in Singapore.
There was physicality, but no ugliness and plenty of respect. To be honest I was worried that the game could get rough and dirty, with all that pride at stake. But match commissioner Hans Smit got the teams together before the game and pleaded for them to play hard but fair, especially with so many kids in attendance.
The players obeyed Smit's request perfectly, with the possible exception of Ilonggo Bervic Italia, who was yellowed for targeting Ariola's legs. (But those who follow the UFL know that that is par for the course with Bervic.)
Ariola told me after the game that he was expecting to get hit.
After the final whistle I was expecting wild celebrations from the Negrenses, but instead there were just a few hugs, high fives and lots of handshakes between the yellow and red shirts.
“Hindi ito pangkarinawang game, pero hindi naman patayan kase gusto namin magpakita ng magandang example,” said Araneta.
(This is no ordinary game, but we don't want to kill each other. We want to show a good example [to the kids.])
For two hours the two sides battled tooth and nail, but after the whistle they snapped back to being the good friends they are. It was great to see.
What's next for the WVC? As they say in Hiligaynon, “liwaton ta ni dason tuig” or “let's do this again next year.”
Almost everyone I spoke to wants to make the game a yearly tradition, and in the provinces that contestthe match.
I'd like nothing better than having the match in the Barotac Nuevo plaza next year and then in Bacolod's Panaad stadium in 2017. (As the losing side I think Iloilo should have the right to try and win back the trophy on home soil.)
But that will take a lot of work. I am hoping that a sponsor or sponsors will recognize the potential of the game and rivalry to unite communities, help grow football, and of course, also promote their product or service.
There are plenty of ideas floating around. We can make it in Iloilo one year and Bacolod the next, or have it two-legged every year, home-and-away. How about a best-of-three series, one in each province and another in Manila? Perhaps the games can be held during the town fiestas, like Bacolod's Masskara or Iloilo's Dinagyang? Or having a U19 curtain raiser game, or a 40-and-above masters match? Or maybe moving the entire UFL all-star weeekend to Iloilo or Negros, including this game?
At any rate, last Saturday's match might only be the beginning. And what a beginning it was.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.