• Azkals bag 3rd place

    From the bottom eight to the top three.

    The Philippine Azkals capped a stirring AFC Challenge Cup run with a 4-3 win over Palestine in their playoff for third place, securing the country's highest-ever finish in a FIFA-AFC tournament.

    Phil Younghusband scored twice while brothers Angel and Luis Guirado added a goal each in a high-scoring affair between the two sides, a stark contrast to the goalless draw they produced in the qualifying round in Myanmar last year.

    Coming off a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Turkmenistan in the semifinals last Friday, the Azkals took it to Al Fursan right from the opening whistle, with captain Chieffy Caligdong's header in the third minute immediately challenging Palestinian keeper Ramzi Saleh. Barely a minute later, a Caligdong pass found Younghusband, who dribbled his way through two defenders and launched a left-footed strike from close range that Saleh was unable to stop.

    The Azkals should have gone up 2-0 in the 16th after Paul Mulders dispossessed the

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  • Rudy Hatfield (right) pumped in a career-high 30 points. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

    In Barangay Ginebra's scheme of things, Rudy Hatfield is probably something like the eighth offensive option, behind Mark Caguioa, Jackson Vroman, Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Mike Cortez, Dylan Ababou, Kerby Raymundo, and assistant coach Allan Caidic.

    But against the defending champion Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, in front of another huge Sunday crowd, the H-Bomb showed off his scoring prowess, detonating for a career-high 30 points to lift the Kings to a pulsating 94-91 overtime win that boosted Ginebra's quarterfinal bid in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.

    "I'm gonna take a nap," Hatfield said after his epic performance, where he also grabbed 14 rebounds.

    He certainly deserves one. On a night when Vroman was atrocious from the free throw line and Caguioa barely reached double digits in scoring, Hatfield heroically kept the Kings in the game, scattering 11 points in the fourth period to rally his team from an eight-point deficit and infusing his trademark energy on defense and rebounding as the

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  • B-Meg's James Yap tests the defense of Alaska's Mac Baracael. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

    Make that three in a row now for the B-Meg Llamados.

    After an embarrassing loss to an import-less Talk 'N Text crew last February 29, a game where they clearly underestimated their opponents, the Llamados have righted the ship and gone on to beat Air21, Barangay Ginebra, and most recently, Alaska, to get a lock on one of the top two seeds in the elimination round of the PBA Commissioner's Cup.

    With a 5-2 record, B-Meg will now finish no lower than fourth. That's good enough for a quarterfinal berth, but Tim Cone has his eyes on the bigger prize, now that his team is just half a game behind the pacesetting Tropang Texters.

    "We'd like to get to the top two seed," Cone said. "That's the ultimate goal. Five (wins) guarantees you a playoff. It doesn't guarantee you the top two."

    Getting ahead clear of the pack is very important in this short conference, especially now that there's a big cluster of teams jostling for position in the middle. The Aces are at third with a 4-4 card, followed by

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  • The Philippines Azkals, undermanned and all, were just 10 minutes away from improbably booking a place in the finals and extending their dream run in the AFC Challenge Cup. But in a span of just six minutes, the dream turned into a nightmare as Turkmenistan pounced on some defensive miscues to score twice and stun the Azkals, 2-1, in a tense match in Kathmandu, Nepal.

    Turkmenistan was staring at its first-ever loss to the Philippines in international play, having comfortably won the two countries' only other encounter in 2009 by a score of 5-0. A lot has changed since then, and this time the Turkmen needed two late-match goals to salvage the win and advance to the Challenge Cup finals for the second time.

    Phil Younghusband had given the Philippines the lead in the 25th minute, heading in a great cross from Paul Mulders for his fourth goal of the tournament as he continued his fine play. Turkmenistan, the winner of Group A, pressed its attack for the rest of the first half in search of

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  • Adam Parada, Nino Gelig and Cyrus Baguio watch Nick Fazekas grab the loose ball. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

    At the start of the PBA Commissioner's Cup, Alaska coach Joel Banal made the tough decision to scrap the team's triangle offense in favor of a more free-flowing offense. Bonbon Custodio is one Aces player who's happy with the change, and against the Petron Blaze Boosters he showed how deadly he can be in full flight.

    Custodio had 17 points and five assists, fellow high flyer Cyrus Baguio added 19, and import Adam Parada contributed 22 and a dose of physicality as the Aces proved steadier in the clutch, carving out a 93-88 win in a crucial elimination round game.

    "Nakakatakbo kami ng maayos ngayon, so fit na fit sa game ko," said Custodio, who rattled off five points in the last 1:20 to help fend off the Blaze Boosters.

    Petron as having its way with Alaska in the first half, leading by double digits several times and entering the halftime break up by 11, 53-42. Banal challenged his team to stand up to the physicality, and in the second half they responded, with Parada leading the way.

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  • Marvin Sonsona (center) poses with other fighters of Pinoy Knockout 1. (Photo by Sid Ventura)

    In late 2009, "Marvelous" Marvin Sonsona was on top of the world. He was the newly-crowned World Boxing Organization super flyweight champion, winning the title via unanimous decision over Puerto Rican Jose Lopez in Ontario, Canada, and was the toast of Philippine boxing. Only 19 at the time, the future seemed bright for the GenSan native.

    Yet barely two months after beating Lopez, Sonsona was forced to vacate his title after failing to make the weight limit in his first defense against Mexico's Alejandro Hernandez, also in Ontario. Although the bout ended in a draw, the WBO stripped Sonsona of his belt.

    Realizing he had outgrown the super flyweight division, in February 2010, Sonsona invaded the super bantamweight ranks, where he challenged eventual Nonito Donaire victim Wilfredo Vazquez for the vacant WBO title. Fighting in Vazquez's home country of Puerto Rico, Sonsona was easily dispatched in four rounds.

    The loss began a tailspin for the youngster, both in and out of the ring. He

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  • The Philippine Azkals made history by advancing to the semifinals of the AFC Challenge Cup with a thrilling 2-1 win over Tajikistan in Kathmandu, Nepal.

    Tajikistan, at 145 ranked 11 places higher than the Philippines in the FIFA rankings, took the lead in the first minute of stoppage time in the first half off a header by Alexey Negmatov from a corner kick. Initially it appeared as if Chieffy Caligdong had cleared the shot before it crossed the goal line, but the referee eventually ruled it a goal.

    The Philippines knotted it up in the 54th minute when Angel Guirado's cross beat goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev and found an unmarked Phil Younghusband, who easily tapped it in for his third goal of the tournament and his 21st overall for the Philippines.

    Buoyed by the equalizer, the Azkals appeared to take better control of the match, and seven minutes later Younghusband nearly scored again, his effort catching Tuychiev off his line but hitting the post.

    The Azkals finally seized the lead for

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  • After coming up short in the first two conferences of the PBA D-League, the new-look Cebuana Lhuillier Gems are hoping their fortunes will change in the 2011-12 Foundation Cup, which reels off on Tuesday at the Arena in San Juan.

    In the inaugural D-League Foundation Cup last year, the Gems were swept in the best-of-three finals by the NLEX Road Warriors. Then in the recently-concluded Aspirants Cup, they were waylaid in the best-of-three semifinals by Freego Jeans. The Gems lost both semis games in painful fashion, dropping Game 1 thanks to a buzzer-beating triple by Roider Cabrera that gave Freego a one-point win, and falling by two points in overtime in Game 2.

    But in an ironic twist, Freego took a leave of absence this conference, and Cebuana seized the opportunity to shore up its roster by signing up former Freego players Lester Alvarez, Janus Lozada, and Bacon Austria. The Gems also enlisted NCAA stalwarts Raymond Maconocido of San Sebastian and Jeckster Apinan of Jose Rizal

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  • B-Meg's PJ Simon drives against Ginebra's Jay-jay Helterbrand. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

    Much of the talk in this import-flavored conference has centered on Talk 'N Text, Petron Blaze and Barangay Ginebra. Last night, the B-Meg Llamados reminded everyone that they're very much in the hunt for the top two spots in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.

    Playing what Coach Tim Cone called their best game of the conference, the Llamados went to their guards in the fourth period as they pulled away down the stretch to blast Barangay Ginebra, 109-93, and gain possession of solo second place.

    Mark Barroca and PJ Simon scored 18 points each and teamed with import Denzel Bowles to help B-Meg break away from a tight game. With the score knotted at 85, Simon sank two free throws and hit a basket to give the Llamados a four-point lead. After Rudy Hatfield scored for the Kings, Bowles scored seven points and Simon stole the ball for a fastbreak layup in a 9-2 run that pushed B-Meg in front by nine, 98-89 with only 3:02 remaining.

    With Ginebra's offense in disarray, James Yap, who added 15

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  • Phil Younghusband (Mike Alquinto, NPPA Images)Phil Younghusband scored a goal in each half to power the Philippines to a 2-nil victory over India in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal and keep alive the country's hopes of advancing to the semifinals.

    The Loyola Meralco Sparks striker first found the back of the net in the 10th minute, gathering a header from brother James off a long throw-in from Jason Sabio and then turning for a left-footed shot that was just beyond the reach of Indian keeper Karanjit Singh. The goal gave the Azkals the early lead and helped set the tone for the rest of the match as the Philippines successfully rebounded from a 2-nil loss to North Korea.

    The Blue Tigers, winners of this event in 2008, actually had the first meaningful chance of the match just five minutes in when Reisangmi Vashum's solid effort from the right flank flew just inches above the crossbar. India wouldn't get another quality attempt for the rest of the half, as the Azkals' back four, which now included Rob Gier, held firm.

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