UFL Cup Final preview: Fitness a factor in Global-Ceres showdown



2016 UFL Cup Final

Global vs Ceres-La Salle

8:15 pm, Saturday, April 16

Rizal Memorial Football Stadium

Grandstand tickets P100, Bleacher is FREE

Telecast on AksyonTV on Sunday, April 17 at 9:00 pm


MANILA, Philippines - Madel Galvez is a former Taekwondo-jin, national team fencer and national team beach handball player. The Iloilo native has a classic Ilongga smile and a pleasant demeanor, but it's her job to crack the whip.

Galvez is the conditioning coach of Global, who are trying to win their first bit of silverware since the 2015 UFL League. They could get it if they defeat Ceres on Saturday, April 16 and their conditioning could be their secret weapon. 

“In a football game, the first half is a battle of skill while the second half is team conditioning already. At least that's how I see it,” says Galvez, who studied Exercise Science in UP Diliman and has trained athletes in karate, taekwondo, golf, and swimming. She has also done conditioning work for Gilas Pilipinas when Rajko Toroman was coach.

Fitness has been a focus ever since the preseason when the team had its camp in Baguio. Galvez certainly sees conditioning as a long-term process. She says that one foreign player arrived late in January, which meant he was unable to get as fit as the rest of the side in the beginning. She also gets frustrated when schedules change with the league, a regular occurrence. 

“When we schedule and design our program we have to 'peak' the players at the right time so they don't get fatigued or get over-worked. It's harder when scheds change” 

Galvez and Global leave no stone unturned when it comes to conditioning. 

“In our team, all players must meet international standards in terms of fitness and also they have to be cleared by the medical-rehab team for them to be part of the first eleven. We measure them by professional football standards, from the body fat percentage to different speed, power and strength tests that meet international standards.” 

She says that all of the Global players work hard to stay in shape, but the two who stand out are the pair from Mindanao, right back Jerry Barbaso and center back Amani Aguinaldo, who also starts for the Azkals.

“If I tell them to do something,” adds Galvez. “No complaints. And they really see the difference and improvement in their game.” 

Aguinaldo was an unsung hero in the Philippines' win over DPR Korea with his game-long hustle in tidying up in the back. 

But in the UFL Cup Aguinaldo and his mates have also been in top form. They dropped only one match in the group stage, (to the Archers due to a default because of an administrative error; they had too many foreigners lined up in the team sheet), edged a game JP Voltes team 1-0 in the quarters despite being down to 10 men, and toppled Stallion 2-0 in the semifinals last weekend. 

Late goals have been a feature of Global's wins. In that one default loss to GAU, they actually won 2-1 with an injury time goal from Arthur Kouassi. When they met Ceres in the group, Global prevailed 2-1 with a 77th minute winner from Matt Hartmann. The only goal in the quarterfinal versus JP Voltes also came in the second half. 

Late goals are a sure sign that a team is fit as a fiddle. 

They have terrific weapons too, chiefly in attack. Omid Nazari, the Swedish-Iranian-Filipino striker, is one of their best new pickups. Watch him score a terrific goal here at the 3:00 minute mark of this clip. 

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Nazari has a Filipino passport but has yet to receive the green light from FIFA to play for the Azkals. He has already represented Iran in senior friendlies, but none of those games were competitive ones, so he can still change his allegiance.

Kouassi, the towering Ivorian striker, usually comes off the bench to fire in goals. He, like Nazari, are tied for most Global goals in the Cup with four apiece. A set-piece threat is central defender Milan Nikolic, a new acquisition from Serbia who is lethal in the air. He scored the opener off a corner kick in the win against Stallion.

Of course Misagh Bahadoran and Matty Hartmann are additional arrows in coach Leigh Manson's quiver.

Global's opponents Ceres also have attacking options galore. But what they may lack now is rest. Global won their semifinal in regulation time last Saturday. In contrast, Ceres were put through the wringer versus Kaya on Saturday before emerging winners by an 8-7 score in a penalty shootout. 120 minutes of gladiatorial play could not separate the sides. Plus, Ceres also had a hard-foughtTuesday game in the AFC Cup, downing Tampines Rovers in Bacolod 2-1 in soggy conditions.

Stephan Schrock was thrown on as a late sub in the semifinal but was not a factor, although he did poke in a penalty in the shootout. Schrocky has been unable to shake off a quad strain. It's not known if he will be able to participate in this massive game. Ceres also did not field Orman Okunaiya and Jeffrey Christiaens on Tuesday. Several other busmen are nursing injuries. Juani Guirado played last Tuesday but is still feeling the effects of a knock on his knee.

To exacerbate matters, Ceres, being based in Bacolod, has to travel to Manila on Friday. However, it is foolish to count this team out. They shrugged off the weariness last Tuesday to hang on for the win against the Singaporean visitors. They are a side of immense grit and determination, who want to erase the painful memories of last year's Cup final, a penalty shootout loss to Kaya.

Manny Ott, one of the string-pullers in the epic win against DPR Korea, must be on song. He will want to feed the two Spaniard strikers, center forward Adrian Gallardo and the left-sided wide player Bienvenido Marañon.

“It's really unavoidable to have injuries with all the matches that we have both local and international, but our players I believe have time to recover and be fit for the game on Saturday,” asserted Ceres team manager James Dinsay. Ceres, unlike Global, do not have a dedicated conditioning coach, but are usually one of the fittest teams in the UFL anyway.

There is plenty at stake, especially a playoff spot for a berth in the 2017 AFC Cup group stage. (It is the league champ that gets a direct slot to the big show.)

The teams are very close in ability, but the more well-rested Global team has to have the slight edge, so I'm predicting a slim 2-1 win for Dan Palami's men.

On Saturday night, we will truly see which side is fit to lift the UFL Cup. – Rappler.com

There are two other matches on Sunday in Rizal Memorial, the UFL Plate Final between Loyola and JP Voltes at 2:15 pm and the Cup Bronze Medal match between Kaya and Stallion at 5:15 pm. The third-place match will air on AksyonTV on Sunday, April 17 at 7:00 pm

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.