Collegiate sports’ biggest rivalry transferred to the Rizal Memorial Stadium turf in Manila today (April 28, 2016) in the UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament Final Four. Archrivals De La Salle University Green Archers and Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles squared off to determine who will face the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in the Championship match, to be held a week later at the same venue.
Carlo Liay (36′) opened the scoring for Ateneo in the first half, while Gelo Diamante (75′) leveled the scores in the following period. It finished 1-1 in regulation time, for which extra time was needed. Added time then wasn’t enough to separate both teams, and the match went to penalties. In the end, Ateneo survived the penalty shootout, 5-4, with Blue Eagle substitute goalkeeper JP Oracion the hero.
It was Groundhog Day for Ateneo, as their last championship in Season 75 had been won after they knocked La Salle out on penalties. Their championship opponents that time? UP. They will have their rematch next Thursday (May 5, 2016) at the same time and venue as to today’s game.
As expected, Ateneo and La Salle displayed signs of hesitance in the first half. After La Salle captain Gelo Diamante shot wide early in the game, it was evident that the Green Archers lacked composure, as they conceded too many free kicks. Javier Ocampo Gayoso and captain Mikko Mabanag stepped up to take the free kicks, but the Blue Eagles failed to convert any of them. Ateneo were the more composed team, and Liay could have opened the scoring for the Blue Eagles, only for La Salle goalkeeper Paeng de Guzman to save his shot.
La Salle struggled to create goalscoring opportunities. Ateneo controlled the match tempo and La Salle were left to feed off scraps. Greggy Yang forced a routine save from Blue Eagle goalkeeper Kenneth James. Moments later, Yang released a diagonal ball, on which his teammate Nace Gonzales failed to capitalize. La Salle lacked fluidity in attack, which left James relatively safe.
The rest of the period was all Ateneo. Gayoso intercepted the ball off La Salle right-back Nathan Alcantara and could have scored if it hadn’t been for De Guzman’s alertness. That goal was coming for the Blue Eagles and it finally arrived for them in the 36th minute. Ateneo targeted Alcantara’s flank and Mabanag passed the ball towards Liay, whose run wasn’t spotted by the Green Archers’ midfield. Liay found space and shot past De Guzman to hand Ateneo a well-deserved lead.
Kendall Colet and Gayoso had two consecutive shots on goal, both of which De Guzman saved. Ateneo deservedly entered the break with a 1-0 lead over La Salle. The Green Archers had much to ponder over during the break if they wanted to impose themselves in the game.
Come the second half, it was La Salle who had the first sniff at goal. Substitute midfielders Jojo Borromeo and Jed Diamante came in for Yang and Yoshiharu Koizumi respectively and the change helped La Salle get ground in the middle of the park. After some patient passing, Gonzales received the ball unmarked inside the Blue Eagles’ box; however, Gonzales failed to test James, as he shot wide off the mark.
It then became an even game, as Ateneo and La Salle searched for that game-changing goal. Both teams’ defenses cancelled each others’ attacks and caution was still in the air. In one instance, it took a Green Archers error for the Blue Eagles to test De Guzman who saved substitute Christian Castillo’s attempt.
Halfway through the second half, it was La Salle who manned most of the possession. The Green Archers were chasing the game while the Blue Eagles just absorbed whatever the former threw at them. La Salle’s crossing as wayward and the ball just ended up returning to Ateneo. Ateneo were just patient as Mabanag cleverly won a free kick which was then caught by De Guzman. In contrast, De Guzman’s counterpart, James, was having an easy time as the Green Archers failed to shoot on target.
In the 75th minute, though, came the big shift in the game. Repeating his heroics last year against Ateneo, Gelo Diamante scored another wondergoal to level the game for the Green Archers. Similar to his goal last season, he received the ball from outside the Ateneo box and unleashed a shot towards the top corner. Relief spread across the Green and White as the Taft-based squad was on the ascendency.
However, Ateneo didn’t allow their heads to drop after Gelo Diamante’s goal. Twice, Mabanag delivered two fantastic free kicks which were a touch or two away from being a Blue Eagle goal. Ten minutes were left in the game and it looked like the match was heading into extra time. La Salle, though, pushed for the winning goal.
Some fancy dribbling from substitute Jiggs Cruz allowed Gelo Diamante to play through on goal, but the latter missed after he rounded out James. I then finished La Salle, 1-1, Ateneo after ninety minutes. The match headed over into extra time to determine who would face UP in the Finals.
In the early minutes of extra time, it was evident that the Green Archers were able to maintain their momentum in the match. Cruz and left-back Gerald Layumas both threatened Ateneo’s goal, but the two of them shot wide. Ateneo, though, grew in the game and the Blue Eagles won a free kick at a dangerous position, only for it to be shot it over. The score remained the same after the first half of extra time with La Salle perhaps unlucky to not have added to their tally.
Fatigue inevitably came into the picture once the second half of extra time kicked off. It then became a battle of attrition for both teams. La Salle and Ateneo traded shots on goal, but neither added the winning goal after the restart. James saved substitute Jose Montelibano’s attempt, while De Guzman wasn’t threatened at the other side. Preventing a goal was more important than scoring one at this point, and penalties looked to be a certain outcome as attempts towards each others’ goal became few in between.
James parried away Jed Diamante’s free kick and that was the first attempt at goal in that period. Oracion then took James’ place in Ateneo’s goal and all he did was to save substitute Rigo Joseph’s attempt. Penalties beckoned for both teams.
Jeremiah Rocha, Julian Roxas, Mabanag, Paolo Alilam and Liay all scored their spot-kicks for Ateneo, while Jhoguev Ybanez, Alcantara, Cruz, Gelo Diamante did so for La Salle. It all boiled down to Jose Montelibano’s spot-kick to see whether or not La Salle will force sudden death. In the end, however, Oracion saved Jose Montelibano’s penalty to send the Blue Eagles to the Finals.
For Ateneo head coach JP Merida, relief was what was on his face after the game. “Ang pinakamaganda siguro na nangyari ngayon, of course, yung players hindi talaga bumigay. At least medyo kaya pa rin kahit sino nilagay. The good thing lang siguro sa team ko is meron silang puso pagdating sa penalties.”
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