By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The stars of the national team—Phil Younghusband and Chieffy Caligdong—find themselves on opposing sides when traditional favorite Air Force Phoenix and emerging power Loyola Meralco battle for the United Football League Cup Saturday.
Younghusband, the prolific Loyola striker with 25 goals under his belt in the tournament, will be a marked man once more as he plays in his first UFL Cup final opposite a formidable Air Force side at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
And as much as he was delighted at the way his team fought back from a three-goal deficit in the semifinals, Younghusband hopes the Sparks won’t leave themselves with a mountain to climb because of a poor first half showing.
The Sparks prevailed over Kaya-Cignal in a nine-goal thriller Monday night with Loyola netting all of its five goals in the second half to pull through.
Phil fired a hat-trick, while older brother James and Mark Hartmann also scored for the Sparks, who looked doomed after trailing, 0-3, at halftime.
“We can’t afford to have a bad start again because it will be very difficult to pull it back against a strong Air Force team,” Younghusband said.
“Obviously, we are well aware of the abilities of the three Air Force strikers so it’s important our defenders play well,” he said.
One of the players Loyola would have to deal with is the Barotac Nuevo-born Caligdong, one of the finest homegrown talents in the national team.
“It’s going to be a challenge going up against Loyola, but we will be ready,” the right winger said.
Aside from Caligdong, the Airmen also boasts of national team striker Ian Araneta, who has 18 goals from six matches so far in the tournament, and the mercurial Yanti Barsales.
The 38-year-old Barsales, who retired from the national team last June, broke the deadlock in the 87th minute that lifted Air Force to a 2-nil win over 2010 champion Global in the semifinals.