It’s been billed as historical and there’s no mistake about that. A Philippine football club is competing in an international club tournament, a development that would be a great boost, or should we say, a bright spark for the United Football League (UFL).
The occasion is the 2012 edition of the Singapore Cup football tournament. It is the 15th staging of this annual tournament and UFL 1st Division team Loyola Meralco Sparks was among the 7 foreign clubs invited to participate in this tournament. The Singapore Cup starts off with a round of 16 single knock-out match and the Meralco Sparks found themselves up against Singapore club Geyland United.
No matter where your allegiances lie with regard to UFL clubs, I’m sure every Filipino football fan was supporting the Meralco Sparks in their match against Geyland United. This wasn’t just about the Meralco Sparks; this was also about Philippine football.
We all know the great strides made by our national football team, the Azkals, and what their achievements and historical milestones have done for the rebirth and growing popularity of the sport of football in the Philippines. The local football scene and most especially, the UFL, has greatly benefited from the rise of the Azkals. In the same manner by which the Azkals have made very rapid gains, the UFL in a short period of time has been steadily transforming itself into a proper football league. The television coverage deal with AKTV that airs 2 live UFL matches on Saturdays is a major development for the league and is a vital component to its growth. Exposure and recognition is key to the UFL’s success, television coverage will help achieve that goal. In addition to that, we now have a football league from a neighboring country inviting one of our football clubs to join their tournament.
One cannot overstate the significance of the occasion. A major part of it is about that longed for local and international recognition for Philippine football, and in this particular case, for the UFL and our domestic game in general. That to me is another big step forward. That to me is also validation that our domestic football, just like our national team, has finally landed on the football map of Southeast Asia.
The other significance of this is the opportunity to see how the quality of our domestic league matches up with the other leagues in the region. Judging from the performance of the Meralco Sparks against Geyland United, they did fairly well. Not content with just simply getting invited to the tournament, Meralco Sparks knocked out Geyland United by winning 2-1 in extra time. It was a grueling match, fairly even in my opinion and the Meralco Sparks showed tremendous spirit to hang on to their lead and go through to the quarter-finals.
It will be argued that the Meralco Sparks faced a team that was languishing in the bottom rung of the S-League and weren’t really considered the underdogs in this match-up. However, the Meralco Sparks had a lot of improvising to do with their line-up as well. The match could have gone either way, but in the end the Meralco Sparks found a way through to the next round. It is going to get much tougher for the Sparks. They will face a club from Myanmar, Kanbawza, who dispatched Wellington Woodlands of Singapore 2-1 to get to the next round. The quarter-finals will be a 2-legged match in July. That should provide the Sparks with enough time to have their full roster of players fit and ready for the upcoming challenge.
I may not root for the Sparks in the UFL, but I am surely wishing them all the best in the Singapore Cup. A glorious opportunity awaits them and I am hopeful they will take this as far as they can, if not all the way.