Perennial title contenders and archrivals Ateneo and La Salle featured in one of the most thrilling matches of UAAP Season 77. The two sides were inseparable as they finished their first round match 0-0 Sunday afternoon at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field in Ateneo.
Both teams had their fair share of possession but their approach to the game widely differed. The home side looked to expose La Salle’s high line with tricky diagonal balls but their execution lacked incision. The visitors, on the other hand, seemed to prefer building up play slowly, albeit with a tiki-taka approach to grind Ateneo’s intact defense.
The first chance of the game fell to Ateneo. At the 10th minute, Emilio Acosta directed a pass to Mikko Mabanag that kindly rolled to Paeng de Guzman. The next opportunity was presented to La Salle eight minutes after. Nathan Alquiros struck a free kick within his range but blasted it over the bar.
After the half hour mark, La Salle’s Jojo Borromeo scuffed a chance from within 25 yards. Moments later, Atenean Emmanuel Paredes also wasted a good chance by sending the ball wide after receiving Mabanag’s pass from the right wing. DLSU’s best chance in the first half came a minute after the Paredes effort.
Borromeo’s cross to Gelo Diamante was parried away by JP Oracion but the ball landed in front of Nace Gonzales. The winger had a good view of the net but was hindered by Mike Castillo. After a brief scramble outside the box, Gio Diamante managed to hit a shot but it sailed wide.
A stiff Ateneo back line lured Jose Montelibano and Gelo to shoot from long range, but neither bothered Oracion. What transpired was a great chance for the hosts to break through. One minute before the break, Acosta jumped on Greggy Yang’s mistake inside the box but could only send the ball straight to de Guzman. The La Salle keeper lost hold of the ball, but was spared by Nicko Villacin’s clearance.
Five minutes into the second half, La Salle dodged another bullet. Gaudiel fired off target after picking up Castillo’s cross. An Ateneo opportunity was soon followed by a La Salle chance, which was indicative of the game’s competitive rhythm. At the 58th minute, Borromeo danced around two defenders but lashed his shot over. He engineered a good play five minutes after but his cross was too fast for Gelo to get a touch to slide the ball into the net.
Mabanag had few chances to deliver good balls into La Salle’s box but neither resulted in the back-breaking goal both sides craved for. With only less than 20 minutes left, Alquiros and Gaudiel unsuccessfully attempted to crack their foes’ unwavering defense.
DLSU got hold of the ball for the majority of the last 10 minutes of action. They came closest right at the end. Substitute Christian Zubiri had a golden chance to win it for La Salle but his shot went past the wrong side of Oracion’s far post. The match marked the league’s first goalless stalemate in 22 men’s football matches.
Coaches JP Merida of Ateneo and Hans Smit of La Salle shared the same sentiment with regards to the outcome. They believe that the result was fair to both squads.
Smit lamented the shortage of finishing touches from his players but was pleased despite falling to fifth. “We’ve got a long way to go. As long as we stay near the top four, we’re in a good position,” he said.
As for Merida, he expected a stiffly contested battle to ensue as he believed the rivalry intensified the desire to win. Staying in second, Ateneo will battle FEU who recorded a staggering 9-1 win against Adamson earlier today.
La Salle, meanwhile, aims to regain a spot in the top four when they meet NU. The Bulldogs are in fourth but only lead DLSU by a point.