A masterful performance propelled FEU to a comfortable 2-0 win against Ateneo, who suffered their first loss of the season Wednesday afternoon at the FEU-Diliman Football Field.
FEU established rhythm early in the game but the first chance belonged to the Blue Booters. Three minutes into the match, Emilio Acosta saw an opening but RJ Joyel managed to get his hands on the attempt. The minute after, the Tamaraws began to take control of the game.
Nicolas Ferrer fed a cross to Jhan Jhan Melliza who missed it by a second. Ball remained with FEU as Val Jurao attempted to shoot from the wing. His shot was fisted by JP Oracion before it ricocheted off Melliza for a goal kick.
Save for a couple of opportunities for Ateneo to expose FEU’s high line, the Tamaraws patiently moved the ball around the Blue Booters’ half, carefully engineering a chance that would result in a pivotal first goal. In the previous 23 UAAP Season 77 Men’s Football games, all teams that netted first went on to win the game.
The next Tamaraw chance arrived at the 12th minute. The league’s top scorer Eric Giganto fired a shot well inside the box, only for Oracion to make a save. The Ateneans ignited a counter attack immediately. Emman Paredes threaded a fine cross to Julian Roxas whose header attempt went wide. It would have totally altered the game’s complexion had it gone in. Instead, the Tamaraws took advantage of the succeeding chance.
At the 15th minute, Giganto back-heeled a pass to Paolo Bugas outside the box. Left with acres of space, Bugas successfully struck from distance to give the Tamaraws the much-coveted advantage.
From then on, the home side’s dominance surfaced. Melliza, Jurao, and Bugas all had their moments of unsuccessfully doubling their lead. The Tamaraws eventually earned their reward after tirelessly bombarding Ateneo with offensive plays. At the 33rd minute, Arnel Amita shook off a couple of Ateneo defenders before hitting the ball coolly past Oracion for FEU’s second.
Back-to-back Best Striker of the Season Melliza almost made it three for the champions had his shot avoided hitting the bar and fell into the net instead. It came as a welcome break for the Blue Booters who spent most of the first half defending. Teams went into the interval with FEU holding a two-goal lead.
It was more of the same in the second half. The Tamaraws had most of the ball with Ateneo ready to take advantage off the counter whenever they retained possession. The Katipunan XI tried to pull one back courtesy of skipper Mikko Mabanag, but he blasted his shot over the bar. They would rue their scarce chances for FEU effectively deprived them of possession.
On the other side, FEU’s’ talented front line took turns in pocketing the third goal that would most certainly add insult to injury. The Ateneo defense survived multiple waves of FEU attacks to keep the score close.
A last opportunity to grab a consolation goal fell to Carlo Liay in added time. The midfielder won the race to the bouncing ball but his touch lacked power to breach Joyel’s goal. It capped off a crucial match which ended FEU’s way.
“Inexpect ko sa teammates ko na gagawin nila ‘yung best nila. Dapat bumawi kami sa 2015,” declared Bugas who is convinced that FEU is heading into the right direction. He added, “Gawin lang namin ‘yung laro namin tapos susunod na ‘yung goals.”
Ateneo captain Mabanag relayed head coach John Paul Merida’s statement saying, “Ang dami raw kabado sabi ni coach [Merida]. At the start of the game, we were able to get our shape properly. Once we conceded a goal, doon na pumasok ‘yung kaba.” Nevertheless, he believes the loss will only strengthen the team moving forward.
The Tamaraws ended the day by leapfrogging Ateneo and La Salle to second place. This sets up an exciting finals rematch next Thursday against UP, who only lead the UAAP 76 champions through superior goal difference. As for the Blue Booters, they will look to regain footing by targeting a win against the still winless Adamson side next week.