SINGAPORE—The invitation came as a surprise, but United Football League side Loyola Meralco is looking to make the most out of it.
Bent on sustaining the rise of Philippine football, this time at the club level, the Loyola Sparks set out to create a ripple when they face Singapore League side Geylang United Friday night at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Sparks, who were invited to the tournament because of their strong showing in the first round of the UFL, are surprisingly the slight favorites—according to betting lines here—against a Geylang side that has struggled in the S-League this season.
A big Filipino crowd is expected to turn up for the 7:45 p.m. match that comes less than a year after a well-supported Philippine team bowed to Singapore, 0-2, in an international friendly match.
The turf ground at the JBS augurs well for the Sparks’ passing game and they are brimming with optimism with Korean coach Kim Chol-su actually targeting a semifinal finish in the 16-team knockout tournament.
But star striker Phil Younghusband dismissed any notion of a cakewalk for Loyola, stressing that, as neophytes in the tournament, the Filipino side is still the heavy underdog.
“It will be difficult because we don’t know what to expect from Geylang,” said Younghusband, the AFC Challenge Cup Golden Boot winner, who is currently the leading scorer in the UFL with 18 goals.
Among the five foreign teams playing in the tournament here, the Sparks appear actually to have the easier draw. Geylang is the 2009 champion of the tournament, but its campaign in the S-League has been affected by the departure of key players.
Still, the Singaporean squad has ace players, including English midfielder Michael King, formerly with English side Burnley.
Veteran Filipino international Simon Greatwich, a midfielder, is expected to be fielded as a centerback, while Matthew Hartmann, who is facing a one-year ban in the UFL, could start at midfield alongside brother Mark, Anton Gonzales and James Younghusband.