Last Sunday, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles came back to beat the National University Bulldogs 3-1, collecting their second win of the season. Having weathered a turbulent start to their Season 78 campaign, veterans Carlo Liay and Mikko Mabanag are hopeful that the team’s flight towards the Final Four goes smoothly.
Ateneo had dropped three of their first four games this season, with all of those coming against the last season’s top three. Against NU, it had looked as if the Blue Eagles were going to fold once more, as Paolo Salenga fired NU ahead with just 11 minutes on the clock. Julian Roxas then sparked a comeback by scoring a goal from Mabanag’s free kick. In the second half, the Blue Eagles paced their way to victory, with Xavier Alcuaz and Javier Gayoso providing the goals
The much-needed win definitely brought a sense of relief to the boys from Ateneo, who couldn’t afford to lose more ground. “This game is very important. Actually, every game after our last game [a loss versus UP] is very important kasi naghahabol kami ng points,” Mabanag stated. The senior midfielder also admitted that the atmosphere in the locker room has been tense lately. With the hard-earned win, Mabanag thinks the team showed that they have what it takes to overcome the struggle. “During adverse situations, the team’s character shows. Coach said that if you’re going to turn that pressure into something positive, it’s really going to come for you,” Mabanag shared.
Making the Final Four again is a must for Ateneo, a goal that would have been made difficult had they lost to the Bulldogs. Fortunately for the Blue Eagles, not a lot of teams have been making the most of their opportunities also. So far, only the De La Salle University and University of Santo Tomas have not lost any game in the season. In fact, only four points separate the third- and sixth-placed teams. For Liay, the latest result needs to be followed up by similar ones in order for them to soundly contend for the trophy.
“Our problem’s always like we win one game and then we lose something. We have a tendency of losing ourselves during the game. It’s very important for us in the next game to keep focused and being aggressive and push ourselves until the end,” Liay addressed. “I think aggressiveness was the main factor,” the Season 75 Rookie of the Year added, as the team played eagerly to make amends particularly from their ’embarrassing’ defeat to UP two Thursdays ago. “We wanted to prove to all the people who are supporting that we’re here to compete,” he declared.
Ultimately, for Ateneo to get to where they want to be after 14 games, the young players need to bring their A-game on a regular basis. The rookies and the sophomores played outstandingly last Sunday and have to get used to delivering such performances, as they make up a vast majority of the team’s lineup. As far as the NU game is concerned, Liay feels proud of his younger comrades. “Seeing them step up with the whole team is really nice. The guys work hard. Maybe what they need also is a leader to push them throughout the season,” he remarked.
That leader could be Mabanag, who is the most experienced UAAP player in the roster. As he guides the team, the fifth year playmaker reminds his teammates of the importance of hard work, saying “Kung sinasabi nilang swerte ‘yung ibang teams, it means they’re working hard. So if you want luck to be on your side, you have to work hard.”
The next obstacle Ateneo will tackle is an interesting duel with UST. Their upcoming opponents have enjoyed a bright start to their season, winning three out of the five games to stay unbeaten. The Blue Eagles need to beat them in the last game of the season for them to make the Final Four again, so history has to repeat itself to an extent. Their skirmish will take place this evening, 7PM, at the McKinley Hill Stadium.