PFF-Smart Championships semis all set for action

MANILA, Philippines - Expect nothing but fireworks when the semifinals of the PFF-Smart National Club Championships kicks off this Saturday, January 26, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

Only four of the original forty teams nationwide remain vying for the highly coveted PFF-Smart Club Championship Cup, P100,000 in cash and the recognition and distinction of being the best football club in the country.

Rejuvenated Green Archers United will battle emerging Pasaragad (PSG) FC while surprise package Ceres will battle the formidable Kaya FC in the tournament's double header semifinal this Saturday.

"This will be an exciting semifinals as all our teams are very strong and competitive so we expect an explosive action this Saturday," said Smart sports manager Epok Quimpo at the press conference.

The tournament kicked off last October 2012 with the qualifiers seeing the top two teams from the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao regions join the main tournament with the top ten teams from the National Capital Region.

Here are the semifinals match-ups:

Green Archers United FC vs Pasargad (PSG) FC

A revamped Green Archers United (GAUFC) will try to book a finals spot against the equally talented Pasargad FC with the inclusion of Azkals talismanic winger, Chieffy Caligdong. The inclusion of Caligdong in the line-up brings quality and experience in the GAU attack not withstanding his deadly partnership with the long-time prolific Green Archers striker, Tating Pasilan, upfront.

Despite the quality in his team, coach Hans Smit stressed that the game on Saturday will be very tough and that the team is still on the build-up process with the new additions.

"We are still in the building process and there are a lot of adjustments with the inclusion of Chieffy. We are expecting an exciting match against Pasaragad. Preparation will matter the most and we’re still in the process of rebuilding our organization in terms of defense and attack. We’re expecting a tough match," Smit said.

Caligdong is currently the tournament's top goal-scorer with 3 goals following his late-game heroics in their quarterfinal match against Pachanga Diliman which saw Green Archers United advance to the semifinals with a 1-0 scoreline.

Pasargad FC, now known officially as PSG FC (similar name to French top-flight club Paris Saint-Germain), on the other hand, will try to utilize their attack with the signing of Philippine U-22 standout and Fil-Belgian Angelo Verheye Marasigan and try to score an upset against Green Archers United.

The 20-year-old Marasigan scored the winning goal in the match against General Trias International that pushed them up the ladder and booked them a semifinal clash against GAUFC. 

"There is a 50-50 percent chance of either PSG or GAU will win so this is a very exciting match. I think the players will be dangerous. We are really motivated and we’re excited for the coming matches," Marasigan said.

Showing the seriousness of elevating the quality of the team in the coming United Football League, the Pasargad coach revealed that there are several players from Iran who are flying to the Philippines in the coming weeks, one of whom is a national player of Iran.

The match-up this Saturday will showcase the footballing technique and prowess of veteran Chieffy Caligdong and Tating Pasilan of GAU against the youth and quality of Angelo Marasigan and the rest of PSG FC.

Kaya FC vs Ceres FC

League runner-up Kaya FC will be in for a tough match as surprise package Ceres FC from Negros will try to pull off another upset in the tournament.

Ceres FC, the only remaining non-UFL club in the tournament, both defeated current UFL Cup champions Stallions FC and current United Football League champions Global FC with a 1-0 scoreline.

Despite the impressive run of the Negros-based club, Ceres FC coach Freddie Lazarite waived the prospect of an easy game against Kaya FC.

"We are a new team. We’re preparing for almost 3-4 months. It's hard for us as coaches to assemble a quality team in a short span of time because we know the teams here in Manila are very strong. We didn't expect the win against Stallions FC and Global FC but we followed our game plan, believed in our players and played the game beautifully. We’ll try our best to win this game for the people of Negros," Lazarite said.

Included in the line-up of Ceres FC is the Philippine U-23 standout and former Kaya-FC player Joshua Beloya who is best known for his heroics in the last edition of the Southeast Asian Games where he scored two goals in injury time in the match against Laos that gave the Philippines its lone victory in the tournament.

Kaya FC, arguably one of the most consistent football clubs in the country, will try to win it's first major silverware in recent times after missing out on the league title and the UFL Cup semifinal against rivals Global FC.

Following the signing of their new Uruguayan coach, Maor Rozen, Kaya FC hopes to formulate a stronger defensive line and a better offensive strategy.

"We are currently working on a stronger defense while maintaining an effective midfield to achieve a better attacking strategy. The players are fresh and they earn their playing time through hardwork. We are very confident with the game (against Ceres) on Saturday and we expect an exciting match," Rozen said.

Kaya FC edged Loyola in their quarterfinals showdown with young Azkals player OJ Porteria scoring the lone goal of the contest to book a semifinals showdown against Ceres.

Veteran Kaya FC players and former Azkals Aly Borromeo and Anton del Rosario are ruled out of the tournament due to injuries.

The champion of the first edition of the PFF-Smart Club Championships is Global FC, known back then as Teknika FC, besting Smart San Beda in the finals. This is the second edition of the tournament.

The game between Kaya FC and Ceres FC will kick-off at 4:00 pm while the match between Pasargad FC and Green Archers United FC will start at 6:30 pm.

The finals will be staged in Rizal Memorial Football Stadium on February 2, 2013. - Rappler.com