Save for UAAP Season 76, the University of the Philippines always had Ateneo de Manila University’s number in men’s football in recent years.
The Fighting Maroons continued its mastery of the Blue Eagles, albeit in another close 1-0 victory, and soared to a share of the tournament leadership with defending champions Far Eastern University Tamaraws, Thursday at the Ateneo Moro Lorenzo Field.
UP showed how they want to win this game as they applied the pressure from the opening whistle as rookie midfielder Sean Patangan found some space on the right flank before Ateneo stopped the attack. The Blue Eagles had to deny the Maroons who attempted from the other side with JB Borlongan at the helm. This constant pressure from the Maroons tested Ateneo keeper JP Oracion, who was forced to save two shots from defender Ian Clarino and Borlongan.
Unlike in their first-round matchup, Ateneo pushed for chances on the counter-attack this time. Renko Gaudiel and Christian Castillo found themselves inside the box in separate instances; only their final touch failed them. However, it was Mashu Yoshioka who registered Ateneo’s best chance in the half as he just missed the goal by a few inches in his shot inside the box at the 15th minute.
Except from those near-chances for the Blue and White, the Maroons dominated the attack, particularly in the last 10 minutes or so of the period. Several incursions in UP’s final third provided chances to break the deadlock, but Ateneo was fortunate that no one was able to get the back of the goal for the former and the score line stood heading into the break.
At the start of the second half, the Maroons resumed their gritty form and once more. After Oracion denied a Niño Muros attempt at the 47th minute, Kyle Magdato intercepted the ball from the center and found some room to operate from the left. Two minutes after, the rookie winger saw an opening and sent a low shot into the goal that Oracion tried to collect. However, the ball went past the goalie and striker Kintaro Miyagi was there to clinically tap the ball to the back of the net for the lone goal of the match.
The goal fired up the Maroons even more as wingers Magdato and Borlongan kept busy sending crosses into the penalty area, only support was not as ample as these deliveries. Miyagi almost doubled the lead at the 57th minute if only he had put the ball into the onion bag and not over the bar.
Sensing some urgency, Ateneo had a good offensive spell inside the box just before the hour mark. The Blue Eagle’s intention of opening up the defense with its passing just did not bear fruit, as Clarino ultimately cleared the ball. Nonetheless, this pressure sent some signals to the Maroons.
UP was able to push for another goal at the 75th minute with an excellent build-up play from the back. Lou Rafanan won a 50-50 ball in the air against Castillo, before Borlongan found skipper Daniel Gadia in the center. The captain saw Miyagi at the front and passed it to the rookie, who was attempted a shot from up close. Oracion this time composedly gathered the ball and denied UP’s chance.
With huge implications in the Final Four race, and as what is expected of a UP-Ateneo men’s football match, the physicality of the match reached its all-time high at the last 15 minutes of the battle. As Ateneo was able to gain the ball into their attacking third, the fouls from the Maroons just intensified their confidence. Carlo Liay, who came in as a substitute for Team Captain Mikko Mabanag, provided the energy in his team’s late-gasp surge.
At the 89th minute, Liay’s attempt from up close just went into the side netting, but was deflected by UP keeper Ace Villanueva for a corner. The former Rookie of the Year then took the corner kick, but a foul was called inside the box. A minute after, Gayoso found a clear line to the goal with Clarino to beat, but it was the rookie was called for a foul in the collision, much to the dismay of the Ateneo bench.
With several calls not going their way, Mabanag let out his frustrations and got the ire of Referee Jimmy Liman. The official gave the Ateneo captain another yellow card.
As the minutes turned into seconds, the Maroons just delayed the inevitable with clearances left and right. The intense Battle of Katipunan soon ended as the final whistle was blown with only Miyagi putting a dent on the scoreboard at 1-0.
At the end of the match, UP Head Coach Anto Gonzales felt that they did started well despite Ateneo doing better on offense in this point of the match compare to their previous meeting. The mentor, however, was disappointed with his players’ attitude in the game. “Our fouls put as up. Had we been more disciplined, I think we could have finished strong,” he lamented. Gonzales shared that team still needs to work on their composure inside the pitch to do well in their last two matches of the eliminations.
The Fighting Maroons will face a dangerous National University Bulldogs side on Sunday, April 10 at 8pm at the McKinley Hill Stadium. Meanwhile, Ateneo looks to bounce back against archrivals De La Salle Green Booters on April 14, 2pm at the Ateneo Moro Lorenzo Field.