We are just less than two weeks away from the end of the UAAP Season 77 Men’s and Women’s Football’s elimination round phase. There are only one or two games each for teams in the women’s division while all men’s football teams have three games apiece, with almost every one of it crucial especially for the title contenders.
What this also means is that the latest round of matches played in the past week helped shape up how the competition unfolds as we gradually reach the conclusion of the double round robin season. After eight games of compelling football, we dig into the interesting stories and examine their impacts on the playing field.
Dimzon beaming with joy; praises her finals-bound Lady Tamaraws
A 2-0 win against UP last Saturday meant that the back-to-back champions FEU Lady Tamaraws will once again return to the Finals. Speaking after the win, FEU Coach Let Dimzon was contented with her players’ performance versus the Lady Maroons, the only team to have dealt them a loss this season. “Sobrang happy na ako. Gusto talaga nila makuha ‘yung game na ito. From the first half buo sila, so parang nakita kong ini-enjoy nila ‘yung game,” she expressed. Prior to this victory, the Lady Tamaraws strung up a healthy five-game unbeaten run where they amassed 13 of the possible 15 points.
For Dimzon, the quality of football the ladies played varied from the matches prior to last Saturday’s. In their previous five matches, she identified the girls’ lack of coordination on the pitch which had them waste a lot of passes and shots that may have made the games easier for them to win. “Iyong ginagawa namin during training, lahat inapply nila dito,” she added while also noting that grabbing an early lead boosted her team’s confidence.
With one game to spare, Dimzon will make adjustments in their game against Ateneo on Valentine’s Day. “Bibigyan namin ng chance ngayon ‘yung mga [nasa] second-string team na makalaro,” she revealed, perhaps to offer a chance for the other players to impress while letting some of the key players to recuperate longer en route to the Finals tentatively set on March 8 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
UST win heats up race for remaining women’s finals spot
Pearl Aguilar came up big as her 60th minute goal earned UST a 1-0 win over La Salle last Saturday at Moro Lorenzo Football Field. The win boosts UST’s hopes of returning to the finals and challenge FEU again for the title. Before the DLSU-UST game, FEU handed UP a second loss, opening doors for other teams to compete for the last available seat in the UAAP Women’s Football Finals. A La Salle win would have placed them above UP while also eliminating UST, but it was the Tigresses that emerged victorious after 90 minutes of highly-defensive football.
UST Coach Judal Sorito’s tactics paid off after sharing that he opted to emphasize stability on defense when facing La Salle. In their second round encounter, UST managed to dictate the pace of the game with DLSU’s offense struggling to break down the solid UST defense. Veteran goalkeeper and UAAP champion Rara Luna also did her part whenever the La Salle found their way inside the box. “Every time nawawala ‘yung bola dapat lahat ng players behind the ball para mas mahirapan ‘yung kalaban,” he recalled to have ordered the players. Heading into their next game against UP, Sorito hopes his team sustains the same mentality, which may yield them the same result.
How it affects the UAAP Women’s Football Tournament is massive. First, UST would still need to win both of their games to enter the Finals. Failure to do so against the Lady Maroons, who are currently in second place with four points more than the Tigresses, will result in elimination. As for UP, a loss to UST may hurt their title ambitions but a win against La Salle will be enough to qualify for the finals. Their position in the standings makes them odds-on favorite to barge into the finals. DLSU, meanwhile, would have to hope for a draw between UP and UST for them to stand a chance in facing FEU in the finals. Should a stalemate happen between the Lady Maroons and the Tigresses, La Salle would only need to beat UP by at least one goal in their last match of the season. They are on bye this coming week, giving them time to prepare and recover before facing UP. Lastly, well-rested Ateneo may still find the way to the Finals by winning their next two games. Similar to UST, Ateneo not beating FEU will boot them out of the race.
UAAP General Championship pursuit shadows UST, DLSU football campaigns
The UAAP is not only about one sport and for two schools regularly dominating the 29-event rich league in recent times, the football tournament is only a part of a greater cause. UST and DLSU became rivals in men’s basketball back in the 90s when both teams established their dynasties in the sport. In the 2000s until now, La Salle’s prominence in women’s volleyball saw them eclipse UST in the process. Yet, that’s also just few of the battles in the war for overall supremacy in the UAAP.
There have been so many sports where either La Salle or UST racked up top three finishes at the very least, making the two universities dispute for the right to own the most well-rounded athletics program in the league. It began when La Salle’s athletics program improved, gradually rising from fourth best to snatch the title to UST in the past two seasons. Before that, UST lorded the league in all but one of the previous 25 editions.
After UST’s win against La Salle in women’s football, both teams have been instructed to go for the best case scenario should UP seal the second finals slot this Sunday. “Ang objective nating lahat sa general championship. Important na mas mataas kami sa UST,” told DLSU Assistant Coach Alvin Ocampo. The opposing camp shares the same sentiment with UST Coach Judal Sorito saying, “Dapat mafinish namin ‘yung UAAP ahead sa De La Salle to contribute points for the general championship. Kahit wala na sa finals, hahabulin naming ‘yung second runner up na, ahead of La Salle dapat.”
UST Men’s Football Assistant Coach Chris Santiago also echoed Sorito. Although La Salle has already guaranteed a better finish than UST in men’s football as UST’s maximum of 21 points is clearly less than DLSU’s minimum of 22 points, the target for UST is to minimize the gap. Currently, it spans at four places, meriting eight points in the General Championship tally. Obviously, the DLSU men’s football team is also doing everything to extend it for them to enhance their university’s chances of retaining overall dominance in the league for the third straight season while also targeting to take home the men’s football championship for the first time since 1998.
Rampaging FEU earns first comeback win of Season 77 men’s football
A huge five-goal burst in the second half helped FEU overturn a one-goal deficit to NU at halftime. It marked the first time a team that opened the scoring in a match to have eventually lost, proving that comeback acts in the UAAP are difficult to accomplish. UP and Ateneo have been in the same position before after snatching leads from FEU and NU respectively, but failed to add more goals before the latter teams were able to equalize. Last Sunday, FEU made sure that there was no room for an NU leveller after pouring in five–three of them inside the first 19 minutes of the closing half.
FEU Assistant Coach Dexter Chio said that the Tamaraws played for pride, seeking to avoid another defeat to the vastly-improved Bulldogs who handed them their first loss of the season last December. Indeed, FEU made NU pay after the visiting squad at FEU-Diliman last Sunday did not make the most of their chances in the opening half. Paolo Salenga, tormentor of the champions in last round’s match-up, scored early but could have had two had he buried the penalty presented to him before his 17th minute goal. The Bulldogs had an opportunity to blank FEU for the first time this season, but the determination of the men in green and gold was too much for a relatively inexperienced team to overcome.
Interestingly, FEU has scored in all of their 11 games so far this season, the only side to do so in UAAP Season 77. This serves as a warning to the competition that it takes more than just a goal to hold off the talented Tamaraw offense, which is arguably considered as the best in the league.
Plenty to play for in Thursday’s double header
The midweek matches pit teams in the middle of the standings against each other in what could be the biggest Thursday afternoon of UAAP football as far as playoff implications are concerned. The fifth-seeded NU Bulldogs will seek to refresh their ailing bid for a Final Four slot when they take on the Growling Tigers of UST before third-placed Ateneo clashes with the FEU Tamaraws, who are just sitting narrowly behind them at fourth.
NU suffered a devastating 5-1 loss to defending champions despite leading at the half. While they are now four points off the pace, they still have a good chance of making the semifinals. However, their fate is no longer in their hands as they would need other results to favor them. Right now the most important thing for NU is to win their remaining games, starting against UST. The Bulldogs won last round’s match, 3-1, and will look to repeat in order to keep the dream alive. Their opponents, UST, are just mathematically in the Final Four hunt. Odds are stacked against them as at least a draw for FEU in any of the Tams’ three games, including against UST, already extinguishes their hopes of returning to the semifinals. Nonetheless, they are still seen as formidable opponents, having challenged the top three teams only for them to lose due to lapses on defense. Arguably, this game is NU’s to lose. Failure to take home three points here will require the Bulldogs to dig deep as they play Ateneo and La Salle towards the season’s end.
Going into Thursday’s main event, Ateneo holds a precarious one-point lead over FEU with both teams undefeated in the second round. Their last meeting ended 2-0 in favor of the Tamaraws, then with key playmaker Paolo Bugas. The MVP of last season is unlikely to see action against the Blue Eagles but it seems that FEU adjusted well without him. Despite trailing the Ateneans, the Tamaraws are firm favorites to win this match, mainly with leading scorer Eric Giganto due to return fresh from serving a one-game suspension. They would have to be cautious, however, in playing against Ateneo particularly in giving away set pieces. The Blue Eagles scored five of their six goals against fellow top five teams via corners, free kicks, and penalty kicks; posing a real threat in those situations. If there is one thing the Ateneans would like to change, it is the fact that the Tamaraws are the only team to have muted the Eagles in dead-ball scenarios. If FEU does it again, they are set to move to first place, tied with UP but are ahead on goal difference. Ateneo will be eager to prevent that from happening, with Coach JP Merida hoping his players to display the trademark One Big Fight spirit the Loyola Heights-based school is known for.
Both games are televised live on ABS-CBN Sports+Action, Balls HD 167, and UAAP Website live streaming with broadcast starting at 12:45 pm.