What is this?
This is the national club championship of the Philippines. While it can be argued that the UFL is the top tier of competition in the Philippines, it is technically just the top tier of the National Capital Region Football Association, not of the whole nation. The winner of this can rightfully claim to be the national club champion of the entire country.
Basically this is the Philippines' version of the English FA Cup.
Who is taking part?
The PFF has selected ten clubs from the NCR cluster and six more from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The ten NCR clubs are the eight quarterfinalists from the recently concluded 2012 UFL Cup, namely Champions Penson Stallion, runners-up Global, Loyola Meralco, Green Archers United Globe (wouldn't it be neat if they won the SMART Club Championship?), Kaya, Pachanga, General Trias International, Philippine Army, and the best third-placers from the group stage, Nomads and Pasargad.
There have been qualifying rounds in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The two clubs who have qualified from the Mindanao cluster are Romgarjal FC from Zamboanga del Norte and M'lang FC. In case you're wondering, Romgarjal stands for Romeo Garcia Jalosjos, the team's patron. M'lang is an underrated hotbed of Football that is the hometown of former Azkal Peter Jaugan.
The Visayan heats have produced Cebu Queen City United and Ceres FC from Bacolod. Cebu Queen City plays in the UFL second tier but opted out of last year's UFL Cup so that they could qualify for this tournament via the Visayan qualifiers.
Baguio United FC and Flame United from Cavite are the qualifiers from Luzon. Flame United have the distinction of serving the most lopsided score in the last round of qualifying, demolishing Naga's ABC All-Stars 12-1 last November.
With the exception of the Flame United-Loyola Meralco Sparks matchup in Rizal Memorial, all the Manila-based teams who have drawn provincial teams will travel to their opponent's home grounds for their first-round matchups.
What's the format and schedule?
This is a single-game knockout competition. No group stage. It's win or go home. Games will go to extra time and penalties if needed. The first round will start with the M'lang-Kaya Showdown on January 9 in Koronadal, South Cotabato. The remainder of the first-round matches will be completed this coming weekend. Quarterfinals will go down on January 19 and 20, while the final four takes place on January 26. The final match and third place game will be contested on February 2.
The venue for all the quarterfinals, semifinals, third place game, and finals will be Rizal Memorial.
Who are the defending champions?
Global. Sort of. The last time this competition was played in 2011, Global, under the name Teknika FC, defeated a SMART San Beda-Rizal team boosted by the Younghusband brothers in a two-legged final.
What are the juiciest first-round matchups?
Stallion and Ceres are duking it out this weekend in Bacolod's Panaad Stadium, and that should be an intense encounter, with bragging rights across the Guimaras Strait very much at stake. Ceres features former national team players like Josh Beloya and Jason Cordova, while Stallion, fresh from their UFL Cup triumph, would hate to exit early in this tournament.
Another tasty one will occur in Cebu's Aboitiz Field on Saturday, when Cebu Queen City United hosts newly-promoted Pachanga. These two teams know each other well, having played twice in the Second Division last year.
Global has drawn Nomads in the first round. This will be a chess match between two Scottish managers both making their debut. John Joffre will helm Nomads while Global will look to the tactical nous of Brian Reid to steer them to victory. The 42-year old Reid played for SPL giants Rangers in the nineties and was recently the coach of Ayr United, a second-tier club in Scotland.
In the other all-UFL Division 1 first-round match, Army will tackle Pasargad.
What's the coolest thing that can happen in this event?
That one of the provincial teams makes a Cinderella run into the quarters or semifinals. That would enthrall Football fans all over the country, and especially in that teams' home town.
The second coolest thing: that players from these clubs, because of their performances here, get picked up by top UFL Division 1 clubs.
Will there be TV coverage?
Right now that is a big maybe. I'm hoping that at the very least, the semis and finals get aired. Most likely on AKTV. For sure their coverage will an improvement over the coverage in 2011 which was provided by, er, me. Check out this jarring video of the 2011 Final Leg 2 on youtube.
There is some speculation that Bob Guerrero will travel to Baguio for the Baguio United-General Trias International game and he will cheer for the home team in bahag. Is this true?
First Round Schedule:
January 9 match:
Kaya @ M'lang, 3pm at the South Cotabato Sports Complex in Koronadal.
January 12 matches:
General Trias International FC @ Baguio United FC: 3pm kickoff at the Benguet State University in La Trinidad.
Green Archers United FC @ Romgarjal FC: 3pm kickoff at the Jose Rizal Memorial State University in Dapitan.
Pachanga-Diliman FC @ Cebu Queen City United FC: 3pm kickoff at the Aboitiz Field in Cebu
Loyola Meralco Sparks FC @ Flame United FC: 4pm kickoff at Rizal Memorial Stadium
January 13 matches:
Penson Stallion Gilligan's FC @ Ceres FC: 3pm kickoff at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod
Pasargad FC vs Philippine Army FC: 4pm kickoff at Rizal Memorial Stadium
Nomads FC vs Global FC: 630pm kickoff at Rizal Memorial Stadium
You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.