On a chilly Thursday afternoon at the Far Eastern University Diliman Football Field, last year’s best two teams, the UP Fighting Maroons and the FEU Tamaraws, battled fiercely to a high-octane 3-3 stalemate. Jinggoy Valmayor scored right at the end to cancel Noli Chavez’s second half goal after both teams netted twice early on.
With much at stake, both the Tamaraws and the Maroons played smartly in order to create good goalscoring chances. At the same time, both defenses exerted their best to challenge both teams’ potent attacks. FEU grabbed the game’s first chance four minutes into the game as Audie Menzi’s weak attempt rolled slowly towards UP goalie Ace Villanueva. The home squad followed it up seven minutes later courtesy of captain Eric Giganto. The forward got a touch to Val Jurao’s corner but it went far wide. UP’s Ryan Fermin blasted a shot well over the bar in the following minute.
After an array of awfully missed opportunities, the breakthrough came at the 13th minute in favor of the men in gold. Heavily marked, Giganto yielded possession to Jhan Jhan Melliza who was unmarked at the left hand side of the box. He then cleverly crossed the ball to Nicolas Ferrer who precisely timed his dive to head the ball into the net and put FEU ahead 1-0. The Tamaraws had a chance to double their lead but Melliza’s attempt from a free kick was caught by Villanueva.
The visiting team then established momentum midway through the first half. Fermin sent the ball into the box but Patxi Santos lost control of the ball at the 22nd minute. The Maroons continued to pressure and got their reward a couple of minutes after. Lou Rafanan whipped a cross from the left wing which found Valmayor. The UP forward clinically nodded the ball over Patrick Rallos to level the score at one goal apiece. It did not stop there as UP’s succeeding attempt resulted in another score change. Off a UP corner taken by Daniel Gadia, Carlos Monfort diverted the ball to Feb Baya who headed in UP ahead, 2-1, just a minute before the half hour mark.
In a game where both teams seemingly shared possession fairly, FEU awaited their next chance to shoot. Their aggressive approach on offense led to a penalty at the 35th minute. Gadia fouled Menzi inside the area, prompting the referee to point to the spot. Melliza stepped up to bury the spot kick and restored parity anew at 2-2. More chances took place after but nothing threatened both Villanueva and Rallos, ending the first half equal.
Two minutes into the second half, Valmayor went past Rallos but recovered late as the goal was protected by a swarm of FEU players. A rare goalkeeping swap happened immediately after that. RJ Joyel, who started the game as a defender, moved to goal in place of Rallos who then was taken off for Joshua Mulero.
With the game level, both teams actively hunted for the go-ahead goal. At the 53rd minute, Monfort won the ball inside the FEU box but scooped his shot wide. The Tamaraws took their turn moments after and were not denied. Chavez drilled in a shot off a headed clearance on FEU’s corner kick to give the Tamaraws their second lead of the game with 10 minutes gone by in the second half.
Despite leading, FEU maintained momentum in the next 15 minutes with the hope of extending their lead. It did not arrive, although the fourth-placed team had decent looks. Jurao, Ferrer, Giganto and Melliza were presented opportunities but none of them made it count. In the same period, UP only had one chance to tie but Valmayor also wasted his headed attempt at the 67th minute. The game then had another twist to its plot 17 minutes from time. Giganto, who was booked in the first half for a foul, was slapped with a second yellow card for a deliberate handball inside the UP box. More importantly, it resulted in Giganto’s dismissal, reducing FEU to 10 men.
Approaching full time, UP emerged as the hungrier team naturally as they were behind. Whenever the Tams kept the ball, they reluctantly surged forward to perhaps prevent a dangerous counter attacking play from the Maroons. Valmayor had a couple of free kicks saved well by Joyel while his teammate Ian Clarino’s shot struck the wall. The game was about to end when Chavez impeded Santos just outside the box. Within his range, Valmayor went for it in their last try of equalizing. The fifth year marksman then lashed his free kick with enough pace and precision to send it past Joyel to dramatically end the game at 3-3.
UP head coach Anto Gonzales noticed improvement from his team’s previous game, particularly in the way they started, despite taking home less points. “We played much better in the first half. [In the] second half, medyo nag-deviate kami sa dapat naming gawin. But at least towards the end, they really wanted to get that equalizing goal. I have to credit them for the effort,” Gonzales elaborated. Heading into their next match against UST on Sunday, Gonzales remains wary of Tiger Striker Steven Anotado as he shared his concern on defense. “Iyong defending namin, lalo na sa back four, hindi naayos ‘yung mga problema. We just have to keep on fixing [the problems].”
Speaking on behalf of FEU, assistant coach Dexter Chio felt that a combination of ill luck and bad officiating late in the game cost them the win. “Maganda naman nilaro, swerte lang UP,” he reacted. “Kailangan naming manalo para makaakyat sa top four. Malungkot man, wala nang magagawa. Tapos na,” he said, while also reckoning that Giganto was rashly given a second card and Chavez’s foul late in the game may have been soft and could have not been given. Nonetheless, Chio would like the Tamaraws to maintain focus, especially heading into an important match against NU this Sunday.
Today’s results now place five teams a point apart in the standings. UP solidifies its lead on top, moving one point ahead of La Salle. FEU, meanwhile, is in fourth; just a point behind third-seeded Ateneo and one point in front of NU who won earlier against Adamson. All teams have four games left in the elimination round, setting up an exciting climax for this season’s race for Final Four slots.