Another classic battle between the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles and the De La Salle University Green Archers enters the annals of collegiate sports’ greatest rivalry. An 88th minute goal from returning Gelo Diamante, who had missed the entirety of the second round due to a broken clavicle, paved the way for a 1-0 victory by the Archers, sending them to the UAAP Men’s Football finals for the first time in almost ten years.
As expected, the Archers went for the wing right at the first whistle, and care of Jose Montelibano and Nathan Alquiros had a series of great attempts from crosses from the wing. Two minutes into the first half, Jose Montelibano almost drew first blood after receiving a ground cross from Iñigo Gonzales. Their attempts were thwarted by Ateneo goalie JP Oracion, who was able to dive in and disrupt the play before Montelibano could position himself for the point-blank shot.
Ateneo, meanwhile, struggled to find a way into the box, with the La Salle defenders troubling every Eagle who touched the ball, forcing the Atenean attackers to try from the edge of the box. Senior Emmanuel Paredes, at the sixth minute, had Ateneo’s first good try of the game, recovering a botched free kick from the edge of the box, and redirecting in back to the direction of the goal, but his shot instead sailed wide above the bar.
As the first half went on, it was La Salle who kept the Ateneo defenders on their toes, attacking through the wing with every opportunity. At the 13th minute, captain Gio Diamante came inches to scoring for La Salle. After collecting a sneaky thru pass, Diamante was able to send the ball into the direction of the goal, launching from the center of the box. Ateneo goalie Oracion, however, dove in time to put a stop to the shot. La Salle, who were rewarded with several set pieces in the first half, also found themselves trying to make the best out of every corner kick and free kick given them, but were unable break through JP Oracion’s wide reach.
Ateneo veterans, Emmanuel Paredes and Emilio Acosta, meanwhile, spearheaded the Ateneo charge at the other end of the field, but were unable to find any easy shots due to the La Salle defenders’ aggressive lockdown on their box. At the 24th minute, Acosta came within inches of scoring Ateneo’s first goal, getting a good inside shot after sneaking past the La Salle defenders, but his shot sailed past the bar. Six minutes later, he was forced to spend a couple minutes on the sidelines. A collision with La Salle goalie Raphael de Guzman, after a botched attack, left Acosta sprawled on the ground in pain. He was able to return to the field a few minutes later, helping Ateneo to a couple more attempts on the goal.
At the 33rd minute, Ateneo thought they had something to celebrate about. A nifty inside thru pass by Carlo Liay was gathered by Mike Castillo, who powered his way through the defenders and into the box before sending a powerful kick that sent the ball in flying into the net. Ateneo’s celebration, however, was cut short when the linesman declared the shot offside.
Despite their aggressive push on the wings, La Salle was unable to find a way to score. At the 42nd minute, rookie Christian Zubiri came close to scoring after connecting with Matthew Nierras’ lob with a header, but the ball went inches past the bar. Two minutes later, Gregory Yang took a powerful free kick from the left wing, but his shot sailed past the opposite post. At halftime, neither team still had any goals.
Both teams’ sustained aggression heading into the second half. Ateneo’s Mike Castillo found his chance to score a goal with a powerful shot from the right wing at the 48th minute, but it ended with the ball drifting past the post. Barely a minute later, Emilio Acosta came close to breaking the deadlock, after getting into position to receive a stealthy inside pass from Emmanuel Paredes. His shot, however, was easily disrupted by the La Salle defense. Acosta had another great chance at the 54th minute, after receiving a nifty inside pass from Carlo Liay. Acosta, amid the chaos in front of the goal, was able to launch a powerful shot from the center of the box that ended with the ball missing its mark.
But as the 60th minute drew closer, a visibly exhausted Ateneo midfield collapse and paved the way for La Salle to resume their aggressive play. Gio Diamante almost scored for La Salle at the 58th minute, after collecting a long volley from Matthew Nierras. Diamante’s shot, however, was too weak to power the ball into the goal, and it drifted past the post instead. At the 67th minute, a powerful free kick from Nathan Alquiros almost sent the ball into the net, but Ateneo defender Wilson Marcelino was able to clear the ball off the pitch before anyone could send it back to the direction of the goal. The next 20 minutes of play saw the aggressive La Salle attackers repeatedly come close to sending the ball past the keeper, but none could get through Ateneo goalie Oracion. At the 73rd minute, returning player Gelo Diamante, was subbed in for his older brother Gio, and was warmly welcomed by fans in the stands.
The 80th minute, however, saw another change in the complexion of the game, with a resurgent Ateneo scrambling to win back flow of the ball. Rookie Paolo Alilam, who was earlier subbed in for Renko Gaudiel, had a couple of good shots for Ateneo, connecting with set pieces and crosses set up by Emmanuel Paredes. At the 85th minute, Acosta once again once inches from scoring for Ateneo, but his shot from the edge of the box landed instead in La Salle goalie De Guzman’s hands.
Then in 88th minute, the silence was finally broken. Gelo Diamante, who had only been playing for fifteen minutes, powered his way through the Ateneo defense to collect a stealthy inside cross from Jose Montelibano. Diamante charged into the center of the box, and afterwards launched a powerful shot that sent the ball flying past Oracion and into the top of the La Salle goal. With three minutes left to play, the lead was with La Salle, 1-0.
The Archers, however, showed no signs of complacency, disrupting the Eagles on their every drive of the field and keeping them from having any sudden easy looks. At the end of three minutes of injury time, it was the Archers celebrating on the field.
“Since na-injure ako, wala akong inisip kung hindi maka-balik sa game,” said game hero Diamante. “I had a mission. Coach Hans [Smit] gave me a mission. It was a risk. I’m still kind of injured, but I trusted Coach, and Coach Hans trusted me, and the team played so well.” Diamante did not take full credit for the goal, remarking that the goal was the product of a team effort. The third-year player broke his clavicle in their first round finale with UST. He had four goals for La Salle in the first round.
Long-time La Salle head coach, Hans Smit, lauded the Eagles for their performance. “With all due to respect to Ateneo, I always told my boys without batting an eyelash, they have the biggest heart in football.”
“Whoever won deserved to win. At the end of the day, it was an honorable game to play. La Salle deserves it,” said graduating Ateneo star Emmanuel Paredes after the game. Paredes praised their rivals’ performance and related how far the Ateneo program had improved since his rookie days. “Before the game, at the dugout I told the boys that win or lose, dapat no regrets. If we go down, we go down with guns blazing.”
The Archers are now headed to the finals, and are as of press time awaiting the winner of the ongoing semifinal bout between the FEU Tamaraws and the UP Fighting Maroons. The Archers last made the finals in Season 68, almost ten years ago.