A hallmark of a good team, regardless of any sport, is to win with their backs against the wall. Dominance in a game enroute of victory displays talent. On the other hand, heart, is shown when a team pulls off a miracle when virtually all hope is lost.
The De La Salle University Green Archers exhibited that fighting spirit last Saturday night (April 2, 2016) when they defeated the National University Bulldogs, 3-2, at the McKinley Hill Stadium in Taguig. Greggy Yang scored twice (42′ and 90+3′) alongside Nicko Villacin (90+1′) for the Green Archers while Paolo Salenga (17′ penalty) and Nico Macapal (72′) did so for the Bulldogs.
Compared to their previous game against the University of the Philippines, La Salle started more aggressively and with their pressing and took care of the ball better. In the contrary, NU recycled their game plan against UP in the first round with how they sat back on defense and patiently waited for the opportunity to launch a counterattack.
It came as no surprise that it was La Salle which has most of the opportunities early in the match. Gelo Diamante had two early attempts on goal, but he shot wide a first then NU goalkeeper Chris Perocho performed a good save to deny him afterwards. In between, Yang directed his free kick wide after Nace Gonzales won the dead-ball situation.
One particular reason as to why NU’s counterattacks were deadly is because of the speed of their forwards Salenga, Macapal and Jay Abalunan. That pace forced a mistake from the La Salle defense upon which the referee awarded NU a penalty. NU captain Salenga stepped up and he calmly converted against a helpless La Salle goalkeeper Paeng de Guzman at the 17th minute.
Nevertheless, the Green Archers didn’t meekly allow their heads to drop after they conceded the goal. They still maintained their patient play in order to create chances. Up front, Gelo Diamante and Rigo Joseph combined well to give the NU defense some scary moments. Gelo Diamante headed wide from a free kick and he and his teammates had a good build up play, only for Gonzales to curl the ball afar.
NU, though, were still deadly on the break. Some great passing unlocked La Salle’s defense. Nevertheless, De Guzman was alert to keep the danger at bay. De Guzman then passed the ball immediately, and it found its way to rookie Javi Romero-Salas whose eventual shot was easily caught by Perocho.
Just right before the break, however, La Salle finally got the goal they deserved. Jed Diamante won a free kick right at the edge of the NU box and Yang brought the ball home at the right top corner at the 42nd minute. La Salle and NU had a chance each to score before the break, but both teams failed to do so. The halftime whistle blew and the score was a fair 1-1.
Once the second half started, however, it was NU which pushed La Salle back for most of the period. Abalunan signaled NU’s newfound drive when only the post denied him a goal while Macapal beat La Salle’s offside trap only to be thwarted by De Guzman.
Things weren’t looking good for the Green Archers at this point of the match. Only a long ball launched by center-back Jhoguev Ybañez threatened the Bulldogs’ backline. That longball was cleared away, only for it to be played back by Romero-Salas’ cross which landed to Gelo Diamante who then miscued the attempt and the chance went begging.
As for NU, that second goal was looking inevitable after every minute. Salenga found himself one-on-one with De Guzman, but the latter dealt with the danger well enough to prevent the certain goal. At the 72nd minute, however, Macapal wasn’t to be denied and slotted the ball past De Guzman. Patrick Valenzuela should have killed the game off minutes later if only he didn’t miscue his shot.
In the end, however, the twist of the tale arrived at stoppage time. The fourth official raised his board to state that four minutes will be played on. With time at their side, NU committed defensive lapses at the worst possible stage of the game.
Two substitutes were key in La Salle equalizer. Jose Montelibano pressed and harried to win the ball inside the NU penalty box. Montelibano eventually won the ball in a dangerous position and passed it towards an unmarked Villacin. Villacin then had all the space to shoot and he kept his composure to score at the 90+1 minute of the match. The worse was yet to come two minutes later for NU.
Arguably the biggest mistake a goalkeeper and his defenders can commit in a match is for the former to handle a backpass given by the latter. An offense like that warrants an indirect free kick inside the box. Such an error happened in two last two minutes of stoppage time after NU’s defense lost concentration and Yang, again, stepped up to take the free kick which he aimed low to score the winner at th 90=3 minute of the game. The final whistle then drew with La Salle taking back to Taft three valuable points after they beat NU, 3-2.
University of the East shall be the next opponents of La Salle, and the game shall be held at the McKinley Hill Stadium on Saturday (April 9, 2016). The result left La Salle at 2nd place with 20 points, just behind league leaders FEU because of goal difference. NU dropped to sixth place with 15 points and they’ll face Far Eastern University two days earlier (Thursday, 3:00PM) at the Moro Lorenzo Field in Ateneo.
After the match, La Salle head coach Hans-Peter Smit was happy with how his players performed. Smit said, “The boys never let up as everybody saw. They never let up. I mean no matter what happened, they still went to play. They still wanted to win. The most important thing is that they want to win. That’s true grit, you know? True grit. Never say die until everything is finished. It’s never over till it’s over.” In the end, Smit felt his players showed more character in the game, after in contrast to their past loss game against UP.