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Tiebreaker Times

UP equalizes late to dent Ateneo’s title aspirations

A Kali Navea-Huff goal moments before full time cancelled Nona Amoncio’s first half strike to end the UAAP Season 77 Women’s Football’s Battle of Katipunan all square at 1-1 at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field on Sunday afternoon. The draw comes as a huge blow for the Ateneans, who were minutes away from securing their second win of the season. Now, their hopes of barging into the finals were also critically endangered, if not totally washed out.

The first real chance of the game came from Kali. Set up by Mary Obra, she struck haphazardly wide from distance seven minutes into the game. Her teammate Cristina De los Reyes almost scored the following minute but Ateneo goalkeeper Katherine Montelibano was alert to foil UP’s leading goalscorer’s plans. Soon after, it was the home squad’s turn to turn up the heat. Mia Catedrilla drilled a clever ball into UP’s penalty area, but Marie Navea-Huff prevented Patricia Punsalan from gaining contact with the ball with 10 minutes gone by.

A couple of Kali’s free kicks on the other side of the pitch took place next, but neither of the two seriously tested Montelibano. The Ateneo goalkeeper was called into action again at the 20th minute when she successfully halted De los Reyes from moving into the Ateneo box. In response, the girls in blue had a chance to move forward again in the succeeding play. Punsalan directed the ball to Leah Cruz who failed to make contact before Catedrilla mistakenly sent it out for a UP goal kick. Cruz had another go on goal at the 28th minute but her shot was safely gathered by UP goalie Nicole Adlawan.

Approaching halftime, UP pressed for a breakthrough goal via set pieces. De los Reyes and Kali each had a try but both were unsuccessful. Instead, Ateneo gathered steam on the counterattack, and with six minutes remaining in the first half, Punsalan neatly teed up Amoncio whose touch went past the rushing Adlawan and rolled into the net, causing the Ateneo crowd to erupt out of glee. Despite UP’s advances, the hosts held on to keep a 1-0 lead after 45 minutes of exhilarating football.

“Lapses namin noong first half sa through balls. Alam namin na ‘yan ‘yung gagawin nila pero hindi namin na prevent,” pointed out UP coach Anto Gonzales who spoke with relief after preventing another loss that may jeopardize their bid for a Finals spot.

The fourth-placed side continued to be aggressive on the attack in the early moments of the second half. Captain Cecille Dayrit blasted her shot over the goal, Cruz was properly impeded by Aira Agustin from shooting inside the box and Aina Martin’s cross found Punsalan only for the Atenean winger to lose control in mid-air.

After the Ateneo aggression, the Lady Maroons promptly took their turns scoring. Off a counter at the 54th minute, Obra was alertly derailed by Montelibano, who also stopped Kali’s free kick two minutes later. The in-form goalkeeper, however, had to be subbed off after sustaining an injury in denying Kali a goal from a set piece. Marianne Caparros came on in her place at the hour mark. She was welcomed by an Obra shot which she was able to stop.

Another substitute almost made a difference at the 64th minute. Anika Ong’s shot from inside the box just sailed wide. Afterwards, both teams intensified the attack but both defenses were compact, forcing players to shoot from afar. Rodriguez had a couple of long range shots on target but needed more power and precision to worry Adlawan. Her best attempt came at the 66th minute when her rebound off a cleared cross from Martin glazed the bar. For the Maroons, it was Rodriguez’s once-national team colleague De los Reyes who spearheaded the attack. The UAAP Season 74 Rookie of the Year almost leveled the score at the 77th minute after her long-distance shot just trickled wide.

With time running out, UP went all out on the attack. They kept on finding gaps in the Ateneo defense en route to scoring a goal. At the 86th minute, UP won a free kick within Kali’s range. The sophomore winger made the most of the opportunity by looping the ball over everyone before it fell nicely into the Ateneo goal. It prompted both teams to go for the winner as time was expiring. Caparros and Adlawan held their ground nonetheless by producing a save each to end the game even at the end of the 90.

“I think coming from a goal down, ‘yung effort ng girls is very pleasing in really trying to get that equalizer,” hailed UP coach Gonzales. The Maroons are now in a favourable position to enter the finals. For them to make it, they should win at least two of their next three games.

The same cannot be said for the Ateneo Women’s Football Team, which only remains in contention mathematically. “It [the result] hampered our chances of making it to the finals,” said Ateneo coach Bob Manlulo. Asked about his thoughts on the girls’ unfortunate collapse that led to the equalizing goal, he believes that the desire to win could have been enough to guide Ateneo in scoring more goals. The only way the Ateneans can make the finals is by winning all their games while hoping that the other results go in their favour.

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