PLAYING both enthusiastically with offense running smoothly from either side, host CMOFA got the better in the end, edging Iligan-Lanao del Norte Football Association, 5-4, in Tuesday's breathtaking opener of the Suzuki-PFF U23 Football Qualifying Tournament here at Xavier University's soccer field.
The Cagayan de Oro-Misamis Oriental Football Association faces Butuan-Agusan del Norte Football Association Wednesday at 9 a.m., while the Iligan-Lanao Norte booters -- who scored the first two goals in the match -- will try to bounce back against the Surigao del Norte Football Association.
Emiliano Mabalos Jr., fondly called "Ayat" by friends in local football circle, had his share of an Azkal-like euphoria when he shone the brightest in the opening day action.
The only "Monte Carlo player" who made the cut of CMOFA's 23-under squad, Mabalos duplicated Rey Mark Galacio's ice-breaker with another goal 6th minute in the second half to force a 2-all deadlock.
Then less than five minutes remaining, Mabalos eluded the opposition to score another goal and CMOFA worked hard on defense parrying every Iligan-LDN attack to secure the victory.
"Ayat's our big hero against Iligan. He converted the winning goal just a few minutes before the final whistle," said CMOFA Club board member Teddy Raypon.
"It seems our boys have the chance to get it to the Mindanao Finals," added CMOFA president Mike Bantiles.
The other goal takers for CMOFA were Earl Garcia (3rd) and Jaymile Conmigo (4th).
"We regrouped in the second half after Iligan made it 2-0 in the first half. Credit it to the boys as they really fought hard to the best of their ability," said CMOFA head coach Allan Medalla.
The game was so intense when CMOFA made the equalizer that three players, including one from the home team, were given yellow cards.
The five-day tourney is one of the four regional qualifying games in Mindanao, leading to the "first-of-a-kind" Suzuki-PFF U23 National Finals this coming April.
Eillen Esteban, advertising and PR supervisor of the Suzuki Cup, said their company is committed to support in two to 3 years the Suzuki-PFF Cup, considered as a local version of the AFF Suzuki Cup where the Philippine Azkals first made a noise in 2010. (With reports from Jinggoy Ilogon)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 30, 2011.