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Romanticism in the UFL Cup?

Not that I am whining, because for the UFL to be on primetime is a treat already for any football fan in this country. However, the televised match last night between Kaya FC and Diliman Victory Liner was as dour and dreadful as football matches can get; and so undeserving of primetime. Channel-hopping was an easy decision to make because the replay of the El Classico was in another station. So was the evening news.

Kaya was certainly not to blame; and, indeed, the onus was always on them to take the game to Diliman. The former’s 1-nil victory was as deceptive as a football scoreline can get; and in fairness to Kaya, they tried to make a game of it.

Not that anyone can blame Diliman, either; and packing the front of the goal with warm bodies was probably the correct tactical ploy against one of the league’s certified big guns. I suppose it was a straightforward choice to make for the coaching staff: respectability or be blown into smithereens.

In other words, one wonders if both Kaya and GAU would have played with so much assuredness if both clubs’ matches needed to be decided on the night. Perhaps, both would have lived true to their stature in Philippine club football and won convincingly.
As an alternative to the current format, perhaps the organisers can explore the possibility of following a straightforward knockout system in the true spirit of cup competitions. Of course, I will be honest and say outright that I am not privy to the logistics.

The current UFL Cup format appears to be patterned after Champions League competitions the world over. In contrast, Champions League participants are – in a sense – homogenous as all participating teams are either champions or runners-up in their respective countries.

This is the same format used in the World Cup tournament proper, which since 1950 has used a hybrid of the league and cup formats.

Traditionally, cup competitions are competitions of luck for which the names of all participating teams are placed in a pot and ties are drawn to determine which teams play against each other in each round. The draws can yield ties between clubs from the same division or between clubs from different divisions.

The romanticism of cup ties stems from when lower division sides raise their games to play the role of giant-killers and slay their higher division opponents. In the case of England, the Premiership teams enter the draw in the third round. The earlier rounds filter out the really weak teams and, I suppose, this eliminates the possibility of blow-outs.

Since cup ties are straightforward knockout matches which have to be decided on the day or by virtue of a replay, certain weekends are reserved for the cup within the course of the lengthy league fixture list.

Those who win their ties progress onto the next round; and the losers return the next weekend to their league fixtures. Nobody goes into extended periods of inactivity until the end of the entire football season.

In contrast, the league traditionally is the competition of consistency; for which form over the entire season is more significant than form on a given match day. Needless to say, because most European leagues are played with anything from 34 to 38 matches – 42 in the old English Division I – then teams can afford to lose matches and still be crowned champions.

Note that traditionally, clubs who win local cup competitions are called ‘cup winners.’ The title of ‘champion’ is usually reserved for the winner of the league.

To get back to last night’s match between Kaya FC and Diliman Victory Liner, it was apparent from the latter’s lack of ambition in the attacking end of the pitch that they were playing if not for a draw then to catch Kaya with a sucker punch on the counter.

Naturally, Kaya’s strength forced this approach. However, one sort of wonders if, had this been a knockout match, Diliman would have pushed men forward more to support the man on the ball after Kaya had somewhat fortuitously taken the lead. That they did not and continued to play tactically was good for teaching defensive organisation; but it was also an abject bore on television.

In fairness, at the opposite end of the spectrum, had Diliman attempted to trade punches, the result would probably have been not unlike Dolphin United’s 2-7 loss to Green Archers United in the night’s second match.

The problem always was that the Dolphins could have learned a trick or two from Diliman in organisation and the art of defending; but, if their forays into GAU’s half were ultimately unsuccessful, at least these made for a better spectacle.

While they do say that quality eventually shines through, in the true spirit of cup competitions, sometimes the minnows do get their time to shine. Knockout matches, after all, are played with a different type of pressure from league matches.

Since losers go out, then any mistake can be punished. Ironically, it is not incorrect to say that there may be more pressure on the higher division team; since a minnow has nothing to lose and is generally expected not to win, anyway.

In other words, one wonders if both Kaya and GAU would have played with so much assuredness if both clubs’ matches needed to be decided on the night. Perhaps, both would have lived true to their stature in Philippine club football and won convincingly.

On the other hand, perhaps Diliman or Dolphins United could have raised their game to introduce to Filipino football fans this thing called giant-killing – and the romanticism of cup competition. Maybe one day soon?

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