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UP edges FEU, closes out first round on top

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Jinggoy Valmayor starred in the rematch of last season’s UAAP men’s football finals after he scored all of his team’s goals to award UP a massive 3-1 win against FEU on Thursday afternoon at the FEU-Diliman Football Field. The outcome allows the Maroons to regain pole position in the conclusion of the UAAP Season 77 Men’s Football Tournament first round.

Both teams created a total of 22 shots with nine of them on target. UP had the lesser number of opportunities but made the most out of them. The first clear chance to score came from Jhan Jhan Melliza at the seventh minute. The two-time Best Striker of the league raced ahead of the chasing pack of UP defenders but his shot had too much height. FEU dominated possession but struggled whenever the Maroons launched rapid counterattacks.

The first instance of such came 14 minutes into the game. Daniel Gadia lobbed a through pass into the FEU area. Despite being outnumbered, Valmayor won the ball before positioning himself. Gaining enough space to fire inside the box, the UP star striker clinically slid a shot past RJ Joyel to put his team in front.

Moments after conceding, FEU looked to restore parity. Almost immediately, a couple of chances from Audie Menzi and Val Jurao lacked direction and power to test UP goalkeeper Ace Villanueva. What prompted the Season 76 Best Goalkeeper to action was a cheeky attempt from Janjan Melliza, whose shot almost sneaked into the empty net only for Villanueva to recover in time and punch it away. The Tamaraws continued to control possession but remained jittery in dealing with UP’s well-oiled counterattacking game.

Three minutes after the hour mark, Valmayor had another chance to score off a counterattack. He received the nifty Gadia pass but fouled Menzi on the way to shooting anew. Two minutes later, FEU fell victim to UP’s offensive strategy. This time, it was more costly as it resulted in Reymart Cubon’s dismissal. The defender wrongfully impeded Valmayor who had a clear look on goal and was bound to shoot against Joyel, causing Cubon to receive a red card that reduced FEU to 10 men.

Valmayor wasted the ensuing free kick which looked to have been crucial by halftime. Five minutes before the interval, FEU captain Eric Giganto found Janjan Melliza with a lob pass of his own inside the UP half. The Tamaraw marksman overcame the pressure exerted by Patxi Santos, Feb Baya, and Ian Clarino before squeezing a half-volley inside the near post of the soundly beaten Villanueva. Approaching halftime, the two teams had near chances on goal but were not able to make it count. The first half ended with FEU able to compensate falling a man down with a goal.

An exciting second half unfolded with the hundreds watching in the venue and thousands, possibly millions, watching live from the comfort of their home thrilled with the spectacular exchange of play that took place in the opening minutes of the half. Nine minutes into the second half, FEU’s dynamic duo of Melliza and Giganto almost struck the breakthrough goal. The skipper passed the ball to Melliza whose shot was blocked, the loose ball was picked up by Jurao but the shot was blasted way over the goal. Same problems plagued UP’s finishing when Simms had the same shot at the hour mark following a poor goal kick by Joyel.

The miscue bug however dodged Valmayor who coolly regained the lead at the 65th minute. Another Gadia lobbed through ball bothered FEU’s defense, causing defenders Justin Calamba and Menzi to collide. The ball then landed in Valmayor’s path, who was unmarked and nonchalantly advanced enough to guide the ball into the net. The lead almost disappeared right away when Giganto’s attempt off a Paolo Bugas shot was deflected in the following minute. Another close chance from the captain came 12 minutes before time when he displayed magnificent control of the ball before pivoting to shoot with his left. The attempt was initially saved by Villanueva but almost fumbled it only to retrieve the ball just before it rolled into the goal.

With time running out, Kobe Ochoa and Joshua Mulero had opportunities to score for their respective squads but both failed in connecting from good passes. Soheil Bidar, a substitute in this game, had a go at the 87th minute. Unfortunately for the home squad, Mulero touched the ball with his left arm, prompting a penalty in favor of UP. Valmayor completed his hat-trick from the spot to expand the Maroons’ lead two minutes before the 90. The gap was too much for the Tamaraws, despite the lengthy added time allotted by the officials. They fell to fourth place as soon as the final whistle sounded, which also signalled UP’s return to the summit.

“I thought the boys played very well. They really fought hard,” UP coach Anto Gonzales said after the game. He highlighted his team’s ability in exerting pressure on the FEU defense as the key to notching an important win against their rivals. He also admitted that the early sending off provided confidence to his players in the game. “[After FEU equalized,] we knew we could get that [breakthrough] goal. We had a one-man advantage,” he expressed confidently.

Giganto spoke of the loss in a positive manner. He shared, “Ginawa naman namin ‘yung best namin. Happy ako sa team. 10-11 pero dominating.” Moving forward, he hopes that they will find enough time to address problems such as the inefficiency in converting shots to goal and the focus necessary to get the desirable result after 90 minutes of play.

The result now puts UP ahead of the competition with 16 points in seven games. Not far away are four teams, namely La Salle, Ateneo, FEU, and NU who are all within three points behind the Maroons. As of writing, the Maroons are set to kick off the second round against neighbors Ateneo while the Tamaraws look to get back to winning ways against the undefeated La Salle squad. Both games will be held on Sunday afternoon, with FEU and Ateneo hosting the games in their backyards.

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