Ceres repeats as SMART PFF National Football Champions

Ceres whoop it up. Image courtesy Jason Cordova.

That plucky underdog team from Bacolod has done it again.

Ceres has won the SMART – Philippine Football Federation National Club Championship, in fact for the second time in this calendar year.

The triumph means Ceres can represent the Philippines in the Asian Football Confederation President's Cup, a continent-wide competition for clubs from Asia's developing Football nations.

With a 1-0 second leg win over Global on Saturday, Ceres, representing Negros Occidental, took the two-legged final via a 3-1 aggregate score after winning 2-1 Thursday in the first game. Both games were played in Bacolod's Panaad Stadium.

Last February Ceres defeated Pasargad 1-0 in a one-game final in Rizal Memorial to lift the 2012-2013 trophy. In that competition Ceres also topped Global, 1-0 in the quarters.

On Thursday Ceres got scores from Jayson Panhay and ex-Global player Josh Beloya, while Global picked up a goal from Azkal Angel Guirado as Ceres won 2-1.

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On Saturday Ceres held on with the 2-1 score until Jay Baguioro broke the ice in the 83rd minute with a goal to seal Global's fate. That was a precious “away goal” that sealed the result for the Negrenses.

In home and away two-legged Football cup matches, there usually an “away goal” rule that uses goals scored by the road team, as a tie breaker in the event of an aggregate draw. Although both games were played in Panaad, the home ground of Ceres, Global was designated the the home team on Saturday, and Baguioro's goal meant Global would have needed to score twice to force extra time, since away goals would have been level.

Had Global, who represented Leyte's Football Association, won the second leg 1-0, they would have been crowned champs because in spite of a 2-2 aggregate score, they would have had one away goal from the first leg on Thursday, when they were the away team.

On Saturday Ceres blew a chance by hitting the woodwork with a first-half penalty, then Global struck the crossbar in the second half before the goal. The goal frame of Ceres keeper Louie Casas, a former Azkals No. 1, was never breached in the second game.

The Smart PFF National Championship involves teams from all over the country, unlike the UFL, which is the top competition in Metro Manila and is held under the auspices of the National Capital Region Football Association.

Reaching the final qualifying rounds, aside from Global and Ceres, were Columbia from Davao, BSU from Baguio-Benguet, Palawan, Zamboanga's Alia FC, Flame United Cherifer from Cavite, Del Monte of Bukidnon, and CBSUA from Naga City and Camarines Sur. The top two from each of the two round-robin groups qualified for the Final Four.

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Global reached the final by demolishing Flame United Cherifer of Cavite via a 9-0 aggregate score over two legs in the semifinal. Ceres was similarly dominant in their two-legged semi, outclassing Baguio-Benguet FA 16-1 on aggregate, with Baguioro scoring six in the second leg, an 11-0 thrashing.

The victory is worth P100,000 for Ceres, who are coached by Ali Rojas Go, a former National Team player. Ceres is owned by businessmen brothers Leo Rey and Ricky Yanson, who run the Ceres Liner bus line.

It's the second piece of silverware for the Ceres Football program this year after the Negros Occidental U23 team, sponsored by Ceres, came out on top in the Suzuki U23 national tournament last summer.

Ceres also reached the quarterfinals of the UFL Cup, falling to Green Archers United. Ceres is widely believed to be set to join the UFL League in the coming year in the second division.

Global won this title in 2011 under the name of Teknika FC when they defeated SMART-San Beda over two legs. SMART San Beda then featured Phil and James Younghusband.

The loss on Saturday marks a bitter end of the year for Dan Palami's Global. The side joined six 11-a-side competitions in 2013 and was unable to win silverware in any of them, coming up short in the UFL League, UFL Cup, UFL Preseason Cup, AFC President's Cup, RHB Singapore Cup, and this tournament.

Although this tournament is the national championship for Football, (at least until the National League launches in 2015) there was no television coverage for the competition, not even for the final match.

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.

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