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DLSU seals top seed with lousy win over gritty NU

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The DLSU Men’s Football Team capped off the elimination round phase with an unconvincing 1-0 victory against the gutted but spirited NU Bulldogs earlier at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field. Sabin Bustamante was the scorer of the lone goal that handed La Salle their ninth win in 14 games, enough for DLSU to finish with a league-best 32 of the maximum 42 points this season.

NU’s Nico Macapal opened the exchanges with a shot on target routinely collected by La Salle goalkeeper Paeng de Guzman just two minutes after kick off. Three minutes after, DLSU won a free kick along the left flank. Nathan Alquiros’ delivery was misjudged by NU keeper Chris Perocho. No guy in blue was near Bustamante who was at the right place at the right time to tap the ball into the unprotected goal. In their first chance of the game, the Lasallians took the lead right away.

DLSU players continued to put pressure on NU, but their long balls were unsuccessful in locating targets. After falling behind, the Bulldogs did their best to give themselves a chance at equalizing. Alberto Frias’ free kick struck the tall DLSU wall 10 minutes in while Macapal misfired just three minutes later. On the other side of the pitch, Alquiros managed to penetrate into the NU penalty area but the Bulldogs reacted in time to prevent the midfielder from creating the slightest opportunity. Both defenses then derailed each other’s attacking plays in a high-tempo exchange approaching the half hour mark, closed out by Perocho’s denial of what looked like a wonderfully struck shot by Jojo Borromeo.

NU’s eagerness to restore parity prevailed in the last 15 minutes of the first half. Macapal led the way as he had two chances to level the score. At the 36th minute, he obtained the ball off a pass from Patrick Valenzuela but the shot had too much height. Six minutes before halftime, Macapal was beaten to the ball by de Guzman. Four minutes after that, Francis Abalunan had the ball inside the La Salle box but was not able to challenge the opponents’ backline. At the half, La Salle owned a narrow lead that lasted throughout the game.

The Lasallians were tested further as NU sustained momentum in the other side of the interval. It took timely interventions by Matthew Nierras and de Guzman to avoid the Bulldogs from equalizing inside the opening five minutes of the second half. Offensively, DLSU had fewer chances. Their first of the period came at the 50th minute when Alquiros created space to shoot wide from around 25 yards. DLSU’s next chance came eight minutes later, succeeding a troika of NU opportunities. Macapal looked to have set up Valenzuela but Noel Brago deciphered the play to keep the ball away from Valenzuela. Salenga’s free kick was blocked by Nierras before Valenzuela managed to hit a shot that was caught well by de Guzman. After that, La Salle’s second chance of the half took place when Iñigo Gonzales struck off target.

The game’s pace increased in the next 16 minutes of back-and-forth action. Salenga was on pace to meet de Guzman inside the DLSU box but Brago stuck his foot with impeccable timing to foil the NU forward from moving into the dangerous area. La Salle rookie Rigo Joseph then stole the ball from Arnel Casil inside the NU box moments later. Unfortunately for the DLSU newcomer, Eddie Alivio recovered to knock the ball off him. Frias located Salenga with a clever cross but the latter’s header missed the target. It was followed by Macapal’s daring run along the left wing before his attempt struck the goal’s side netting just 20 minutes before time. Salenga emulated his teammate’s move the next minute but was halted by de Guzman.

With just 17 minutes left, goalscorer Bustamante drilled in a cross that was telegraphed by Perocho. Then at the 74th minute, Macapal, who had been active throughout the match, saw his shot saved. Subsitute Chuck Uy found Jose Montelibano, who also started the game on the bench. The ex-DLSZ standout wasted a chance to double the lead as he failed to hit the target two minutes later. Jezer Jalandoni had the same fate as Macapal, when his shot was also gathered by the busy de Guzman. It was the last in the array of wild exchanges as the tempo of the game slowed down heading into full time. La Salle ended the game more aggressively with three chances to NU’s two. Montelibano came the closest six minutes before time when his chip over Perocho seemed perfect only for it to clip the bar before getting cleared. The final whistle was greeted with neither team entirely pleased with the outcome of the game.

“This is the only win that we’ve had that we don’t feel like it’s a win,” stated DLSU coach Hans Smit in dismay. The mentor labeled the win as lousy and thought that his team got away with the underwhelming performance by scoring early, reminiscent of their second round win against UE. His team may enter the semis unbeaten but Smit is adamant that the team holds no particular advantage, especially as the tournament now uses a cup-tie format—meaning the twice-to-beat advantage for the top two teams has been phased out. La Salle will face arch nemesis Ateneo next week after the latter secured the last Final Four slot by beating UST, 2-1, in a simultaneously held contest at FEU-Diliman.

The win by Ateneo meant that NU finished their UAAP Season 77 campaign in fifth, having two points less than the Season 75 champions. Coach Wilhelm Laranas thought the team controlled the match but were unable to translate abundant chances into goals. “Ginawa naman namin lahat. We were really preparing to be in the Final Four. Breaks lang kasi ng game eh. We’ll do harder next time,” the heartbroken mentor assessed.

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