Tonog double gives Pasay perfect start
PASAY City took the early honours when the first national football league in the Philippines kicked off over the weekend.
Playing against reigning champions Davao City, Pasay won 4-1 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila thanks to a man-of-the-match performance from skilful midfielder Jesurel Tonog, who scored two of the goals.
In other matches on the first weekend, Makati beat Manila 1-0 in Manila, Iligan beat Iloilo 1-0 at the Iloilo City Sports Centre and Quezon thrashed Cebu 3-0, also in Iloilo.
The Philippine Football League consists of 10 semi-professional teams - Dumaguete and Laguna are the other two - playing 90 matches over 22 weeks at four venues: the Rizal Memorial Stadium, Iloilo City, Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao and Cebu.
The Philippine Football Federation received permission from the Asian Football Confederation in May to form their first semi-pro league. Competition will end in May and the champions will receive the President's Cup.
In Japan, Verdy Kawasaki and Sanfrecce Hiroshima ended their J.League campaigns on a low note ahead of their two-leg play-off for the championship.
Sanfrecce, who won the first stage of this second J.League season, slipped to a 1-0 defeat away to Nagoya Grampus Eight, for whom former England captain Gary Lineker was playing his last match before retiring.
In front of 21,506 spectators at the Nagoya Mizuho Stadium, Grampus won in sudden-death extra-time with a goal from Yasuyuki Moriyama on the 100-minute mark.
Despite the victory, Nagoya finished the second stage firmly at the bottom of the 12-team table with only six wins in 22 outings, two adrift of Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka.
Sanfrecce's opponents in the play-off, reigning champions Verdy, went down 2-1 away to Bellmare Hiratsuka, who finished second in their debut season in the J. League.
Edson gave Bellmare the lead in the 21st minute but it lasted only four minutes as Shinji Fujiyoshi equalised for Verdy.
Betinho's 24th goal of the season - from a direct free-kick in the 65th minute - earned Bellmare victory and allowed them to close the gap on Verdy to just one win at the top of the standings.
The first leg of the play-off will be held at the Big Arch Stadium in Hiroshima on November 26.
The date and venue of the second leg has not been decided because Verdy say their Todoroki Stadium pitch in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, is in poor condition and want to switch their home game to the National Stadium, Tokyo, on November 30.
With the J.League at such a critical stage, Verdy sent only a second-string side to the East Asia region quarter-finals of the Asian Club Championship in South Korea.
Four teams from West Asia and four from East Asia will play a round-robin series to determine the four qualifiers - two from each region - for the semi-finals.
Not surprisingly, Verdy were beaten in their opening match, 3-1 by Korean champions Ilhwa Chonma.