Kaya Iloilo still finds silver lining despite defeat to Shandong

Kaya Iloilo should still be happy with its performance despite losing at home. Kaya FC Iloilo (file photo)
By Kokoy Severino

IN an intermittent downpour, Kaya Iloilo left everything out on the pitch on Tuesday night, and that’s what coach Colum Curtis was most proud of in his squad.

They manhandled their opponents with aggressive and physical defense, preventing them from establishing any sort of rhythm.

And we know how important rhythm is to a team with five Brazilian players, three of whom comprised the forward corps of Shandong Taishan against Kaya Iloilo – Moises Magalhaes, Crysan Barcelos, and Matheus Pato, who incidentally scored the three goals for the visitors from northeast China.

Kaya Iloilo’s defensive pressure and tight marking in the middle and back thirds kept the Brazilian trio at bay for over an hour of game time. 

The drives that did manage to penetrate into Kaya Iloilo’s box were repelled by a couple of heroic saves by goalkeeper Quincy Kammeraad.

It took a costly defensive error in the box for Shandong to score their first goal on a 63rd-minute penalty.

Shandong head coach Choi Kang-Hee can blame the awful Rizal Memorial Stadium field surface all he wants, as he expressed in the post-match press conference, but there is no question that the boys representing Iloilo, the historical hotbed of Philippine football, took the fight to the boys from northeast China.

This came as a surprise to Choi, who admitted Kaya Iloilo played much better than what they had seen in their scouting videos.

Kaya Iloilo's need for better competition

Ultimately, as the tight match wore on, it was that aggressive defensive pressure that proved to be Kaya Iloilo’s downfall later in the game.

As the defensive line tired, they became more prone to sloppy and costly errors, evidence of a fitness level below that of Shandong, who is in the midst of their Chinese Super League season and FA Cup tournament.

Kaya Iloilo, on the other hand, has had an easy ride in the Copa Paulino Alcantara, amassing a 35-1 goal differential in the last four matches they’ve played.  

Curtis lamented the lack of tighter more competitive matches in the run-up to Kaya Iloilo’s Champions League opener.

This can be heard perhaps as a message to the federation powers that be, who have the capability of facilitating and organizing international club friendlies for the three Philippine representatives currently competing in pan-Asian competitions, something we fans would definitely welcome, too.

After the Copa Paulino Alcantara concludes in a couple of weeks, Kaya Iloilo, as well as Stallion Laguna and Cebu FC, would be facing long gaps between matches in the Champions League for the former and the AFC Cup for the latter two.

I did feel robbed by Shandong Taishan on Tuesday night in another way.

Midfielder Marouane Fellaini was absent to the disappointment of many a spectator looking forward to watching the legendary former Manchester United center-midfielder and Belgian World Cup veteran.

Understandably, Choi explained that they had to leave numerous players behind in Shandong for this game to be mindful of their rotation in the various ongoing domestic competitions.

Shandong felt Kaya Iloilo's pressure

Fellaini or no Fellaini, this was a more difficult opener for Shandong and a better start for Kaya Iloilo than the 3-1 scoreline might indicate.

Statistically, Kaya Iloilo generated some very solid defensive play, winning 92 percent of their tackles and making 12 interceptions - that’s three more than Shandong’s defense managed.

Indeed, Kaya Iloilo played their very scrappy style quite effectively, winning many of the 50-50 balls.

There were very few Shandong passes that went unchallenged.

Even in the air where the northeast Chinese group had a clear height advantage, the Iloilo resolve remained undaunted; they went up and after every ball.

Nothing came easy for Shandong Taishan until the waning minutes when the Visayan team had given their every last ounce.

Offensively, Kaya’s 42 percent ball possession belies their preferred counter-attacking style, exemplified by Jarvey Gayoso’s breakaway goal, one for the Champions League highlight reel, that pumped some life and hope into the Philippines half of the Rizal Memorial grandstand.

Curtis said that what he has been happiest about since arriving in the Philippines in August is his squad’s unwavering commitment to working hard, learning, and improving.

If this opening match is the benchmark for improvement, then Kaya will be providing us with some of the most exciting football Rizal Memorial has hosted in the matches to come.

Kokoy Severino is a career educator, a nationally certified youth soccer coach in the United States, and an executive officer of the Football for Peace Movement in the Philippines.

The views and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.

Follow the site on X: @DugoutPH