From dark horse to champion: Stallion's rise in UFL
Alder Almo (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2012 - 1:23pm

MANILA, Philippines – Penson Stallion Gilligan's will no longer be considered a “dark horse” when the United Football League opens its next season on Feb. 5 next year.

Nobody saw them coming except themselves who believed that they have the tools and the game to beat the top seed Global laden with Philippine Azkals in the finals of the UFL Cup.

And beat the odds they did.

From dark horse to champion, the Iloilo-based Stallion flaunted the game that their coach believed should be the perfect style for Filipinos.

“We wanted to set the bar high for Philippine football. Malditas and Stallion style of football is one and the same,” Stallion coach Ernie Nierras posted on his twitter account (@footiecrazy) the day after winning the UFL Cup.

Nierras, who recently steered the Malditas to the LA Viking Cup title in the US late last month, has whipped up the Stallion into a thoroughbred to finally cop their breakthrough title in the UFL.

Their crisp, short passing game put top seed and overwhelming favorite Global in a bind en route to their 2-1 win in the UFL Cup finals last Monday.

After just being promoted to the Division I, Stallion almost pulled off a Cinderella run finishing fourth in the league last season. In the off-season, Stallion plugged the holes in their Ilonggo-Korean mixed lineup with three key acquisitions.

Nierras was able to land the services of Internacionale de Madrid CF striker Rufo Sanchez and defender Joaquin Canas, whom he saw up close and personal when the visiting Spanish third division club played the Azkals last year.

For Sanchez and Canas, the months that they were separated from their family and loved ones were all worth it as they will go home to Madrid like legendary ‘conquistadors’ on a foreign field.  

"We came for this. And we finally won it. This title is for our family in Madrid," Canas said.

The Spanish duo together with Azkal Jason de Jong made the Stallion led by Barotac Nuevo native Ruben “Balut” Doctora Jr. even more formidable.  With their “Koringo” style of play spiced up by the matador-like game of their Spanish recruits, they went on to top their group eliminating defending Cup champion Phil. Air Force. 

Nobody gave them a chance when they entered the finals opposite top seed Global, who dominated their opponents in the playoffs even without their Azkals players in deep training for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The Stallion waited for three weeks to meet their destiny when the league postponed the finals as the scheduled date was deemed too close to the Azkals’ Suzuki Cup run.

While the Global’s Azkals were in the spotlight playing the best national teams in the region, the Stallion shun the distraction and religiously trained in the country’s football hotbed Barotac Nuevo where half of the team came from.

Nakatulong ng malaki yung preparation namin sa Barotac Nuevo. Lahat kami nagsakripisyo (Our preparation in Barotac Nuevo helped a lot. Everybody sacrificed),” team skipper Balut Doctora said in the post-match interview.

Only de Jong who did not make the Barotac Nuevo trip as he joined the other Global players in the Azkals' Suzuki Cup run where they managed to make a return trip to the semifinals only to fall short once again.  He was emotional after the win and credited his Stallion stint in his personal growth as a player.

“This is amazing. We showed a lot of heart to win this. It's crazy, "said an ecstatic De Jong after the match.

"It’s 100 percent worthy. I would like to thank Tito Ernie (Nierras) for making me a better player, for helping me become an Azkals starter again,” De Jong added. This is a great ending to year 2012. I just hope this will continue in 2013.”

From the way things are shaping up, it looks like De Jong’s wish will be granted sooner than later.

“Canas, Sanchez and De Jong plugged the holes. But get ready for more surprises. We’ll be adding more in the league next year,” Nierras said.

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