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Fighting Maroons strike late to scrape victory against courageous Soaring Falcons

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A deflected effort from Daniel Saavedra, a minute before normal time ended, made sure that the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons went home with all three points at the expense of the Adamson University Soaring Falcons, yesterday evening at the McKinley Hill Stadium.

In the process, the win also extends UP’s winning streak to three games now. On paper, the Maroons look impressive as they now climb to solo third place in the UAAP standings with 10 points to their tally. The Maroons’ display on the night against the gutsy seventh-placed team, nevertheless, had been anything but impressive.

Buoyed by their momentous victory three days ago, the Soaring Falcons boldly made their runs as early as the opening minute. They registered the game’s first chance on goal three minutes in courtesy of Jusuel Pilarca. The Adamson forward saw UP goalkeeper Ace Villanueva a few yards off the line and dared to loop the ball into the net. It appeared destined to go in, but Villanueva got onto it just in the nick of time.

On their toes in the early stages, the Fighting Maroons eagerly responded with an array of chances in the next ten or so minutes. Daniel Saavedra got the ball rolling when his shot at the fifth minute was blocked. They followed that up with another chance three minutes later courtesy of Rvin Resuma. The winger saw the goal but could only direct his shot wide.

Smelling blood, UP kept peppering the Adamson defense with more dangerous balls, one of which came from Feb Baya. The defender’s pass found Kyle Magdato, who was only able to head it towards Adamson keeper Carl Viray. The Maroons looked to have finally settled into the match as they mostly held possession. Yet, they still had a difficult time in breaking down the disciplined Adamson back line. Opportunities kept on coming, but no one was able to provide the composure needed to put the ball into the net.

The Falcons’ ability to clamp down their opponents also served the purpose of launching themselves on the counter attack. At the 22nd minute mark, Pilarca had another go to break the deadlock. His shot, however, sailed over the goal. Six minutes later, Bless Jumo (I) found himself with acres of space and only Villanueva between him and the goal. The chance was too good to be true for him, as the linesman raised his flag for offside.

Before Jumo I was judged offside, the Fighting Maroons were presented an opening inside the box. A failed clearance placed the ball near Kintaro Miyagi. Surprised, the UP striker wasn’t able to react quick enough and in so doing gave Viray the time to clear the danger away.  That was definitely not the last chance of the Maroons, as plenty still came before halftime. Among the notable ones was one from Saavedra. The midfielder saw his shot blocked by Ramos a minute before the half hour. At the 37th minute, Patangan rattled the crossbar with his volley from just inside the box. Not long after, Miyagi got on the end of a well-struck Magdato cross but he couldn’t guide his diving header below the bar.

Despite defending for almost the entire second half, Adamson nearly took the lead before the break. Two minutes after Brian Jumo (II) forced a routine save from Villanueva. A minute afterwards, rookie Harold Feliciano prompted the UP goalie to action again with his neatly-struck shot at the 44th minute forcing an outstretched save. The halftime whistle sounded a few moments later, with the score still as it was at the start.

Perhaps frustrated by the goalless first half, the Fighting Maroons upped the tempo after halftime. UP’s determination to break the deadlock was, however, unmatched by the quality of chances they were producing. Substitute JB Borlongan, who came on for batchmate Magdato in the first half, was finding his groove along the left flank. He was in the thick of things in the first 10 minutes of the second half, launching a shot six minutes in, albeit off target. Then he placed a magnificent cross that was wasted by an unprepared Miyagi inside the box.

Anxious, Gonzales decided to shuffle his deck by bringing in Daniel Gadia and Miggy Clarino. The move nearly paid off right away. Sixty-one minutes in, Gadia made a clever pass to Clarino, who nearly made a shot had it not been for Ramos’ timely intervention. The younger Clarino stayed aggressive and found himself in the middle of a good chance a minute later. He attempted to pounce on a loose ball situation and nearly broke the deadlock, steering the ball just to the left of the post.

The Maroons nearly rued all their missed opportunities when Jumo II almost sneaked the ball into the UP net at the 64th minute. The sophomore slid the ball past Villanueva but could only hit the post in the process. A poor clearance off a scramble had him the chance to strike once more, only for it to go wide.

Approaching the business end of the match, UP dictated the pace of the game. The rookies kept getting chances but their finishing remained sour. Miyagi was open inside the box but scuffed it wide while attempting to slot it into the far post. Borlongan, on his part, created a wonderful chance for himself only to put it way off the mark. With fatigue creeping in for the starters, the substitutes took charge. Off the bench, they took most of the chances inside the last 20 minutes. Carlos Monfort and Soheil Bidar created excellent opportunities with their runs, both of which were dealt with well by the Falcons.

Adamson looked content to sit back towards the end and it may have cost them a point. Giving UP total control of the match, the Falcons invited danger. It looked as if they would hold on after Clarino’s cross was headed straight to Viray by Gadia five minutes before time. However, the Falcons were dealt a huge blow at the 89th minute when the Maroons finally claimed what they would feel was a deserved goal. With acres of space from around 30 yards, Saavedra decided to go for the jugular. The rookie’s daring effort took a touch from Ramos before striking the top corner, sealing UP’s third straight win in the process, as there was too little time for Adamson to respond.

“The boys must have done something good,” said UP Coach Anto Gonzales after the game. The tactician voiced frustration over how the starters began the game, as they had wasted a plethora of efforts that could have gotten them ahead. “I thought they were undisciplined in the first half. They deviated from the plan. They tried to do things on their own,” he evaluated. He also reckoned that the game would have turned out differently had the Falcons gone for the win and not for just a point, as demonstrated by Adamson’s defensive stance in the last 25 minutes of the game. “They were playing so well. Noong nag isang tao na lang sila [sa harap], wala na masyadong threat, that’s when we were able to go on [for the win],” Gonzales stated.

Having dodged a bullet in this game, the Fighting Maroons will look to make it four wins in a row. Up next for them is a date with the skidding National University Bulldogs next Saturday, 4PM, at the McKinley Hill Stadium. For the Soaring Falcons, a clash against the De La Salle University Green Archers await them as they hope to showcase another resilient performance this coming Thursday, 1PM, at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field.

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