Written By: Kenneth Ho
Loyola Meralco Sparks earned its ticket into the quarter-finals of the RHB Singapore Cup 2014 after they saw off the challenge of SHB Champasak FC in the preliminary round.
The Philippines side emerged 7-1 winners and in truth could have scored more as they thoroughly dominated the match.
Philippines internationals James Younghusband and Simon Greatwich started the match after they were left out of Azkal’s game against Palestine in the AFC Challenge Cup finals, and it was James Younghusband who played a starring role in the match as he scored a hat-trick.
The forward opened the scoring with a free header in the 24th minute when he met Matthew Hartmann’s free kick at the far post with a thumping header.
He then headed in another in the 71st minute before completing his hat trick with a bullet of a free kick from 20 yards out in the 85th minute.
James Younghusband’s brother, Phillip Younghusband, started on the bench as Loyola coach Joseph Santos opted to rest him following his 90 minutes appearance in the AFC Challenge Cup finals.
However, Phillip Younghusbands came off the bench with 15 minutes to spare and still got on the score sheet within a minute of his introduction as he found himself facing Champasak goalkeeper Nguyen Tien Anh alone and finished calmly to earn a goal.
Both sides had went into the break at one goal apiece, after Imbem Itubu had glanced in a flick on from Daniel Obo to cancel out James Younghusband opener.
However, the Philippines side then went ahead after Sonxay Simoulay’s failed clearance saw him deflect a cross past his own goalkeeper.
From there on, the Sparks begun to run riot as they carved opened Champasak at will and created many chances.
That allowed another substitute, Alfredo Gonzalez, to grab a brace as he came off the bench to head in the fifth goal for Loyola before finishing off a cut-back from James Younghusband in the dying minutes of the game.
Even though the Sparks thoroughly deserved the victory, Champasak did put up a proper fight in first half.
The Laotian side nearly grabbed the lead in the first 15 minutes of the game when Bernard Michael saw his 20-yard header looped just over goal.
Sangvone Phimmasen then wasted another good opportunity when he failed to make the most of his chance from 18 yards out despite having time and space.
They then did well to create the equaliser by forcing Loyola custodian Baba Sampana into a save following a thunderbolt from Thatsadaphone Vorladed. The resulting corner saw Imbem grabbed the equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Loyola spurned many opportunities to widen the margin, and while many of their attackers were guilty of being profligate, none was as guilty as Graham Caygill.
The forward enjoyed many chances in the danger area on several occasions, but failed to find the mark.
Even when his attempts did find the mark, Caygill failed to put power in his shots. This was especially so in the 55th minute when he was three yards out from goal but could only weakly direct his shot into Nguyen Tien Anh.
The win meant that Loyola are the only invitational side to remain in the Singapore Cup, as all three other invited clubs including Champasak crashed out at the first hurdle of the tournament.