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Lady Archers draw closer to the final after edging Lady Eagles

The De La Salle Lady Archers claimed a 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Ateneo de Manila Lady Eagles Saturday evening at the McKinley Hill Stadium to solidify their bid for a return to the women’s football tournament final.

The Lasallians are now just one point shy of securing a place in the last dance, and may not even have to kick a ball to get there should the Lady Tamaraws fail to win tomorrow.

Still sporting a 100% record, the Lady Archers played aggressively in the opening minutes of the game. Kyla Inquig had the first shot on goal just three minutes after kickoff. Getting room inside the box, the midfielder swung her attempt on target but Mariane Caparros was there to keep it out. In the 12th minute, another good La Salle chance came through Irish Navaja. Also inside the box, the sophomore forced a save, albeit routine, from the Ateneo goalkeeper.

The Lady Eagles seemed to have had enough, and gradually made their way into the La Salle box. Sixteen minutes in, a Camile Rodriguez cross looked promising when it found Paulina Naguiat close to the far post. Yet the chance was spoiled when the winger wasn’t able to control the ball right away, giving the Lady Archers time to recover on defense.

The barrage did not end there, however, as Bea Velasco almost opened the scoring for the Ateneans. Leaping above everyone else, one of Ateneo’s latest recruits nodded the ball on target. Inna Palacios, a reliable figure in La Salle’s defense, was able to gather nonetheless.

More dominant yet having nearly gone a goal down, the Lady Archers made their next chance count. Sarah Castañeda made her way deep into the Ateneo box. Once there, the rookie midfielder lured three Lady Eagles out of position. Seeing space across the goal, she directed a clever pass into the six-yard box, where Navaja guided the ball into the net with conviction in the 23rd minute.

The Lady Eagles moved eagerly to respond as soon as possible. Despite getting to keep the ball decently inside the La Salle half, their best chance to equalize only came through a Nona Amoncio free kick.

As the Ateneans advanced further, it left them more vulnerable at the back. Ten minutes after breaking the deadlock, the league leaders padded their advantage. Castañeda initially set up Inquig who was in a better position to strike the ball. Inquig’s shot was well hit, forcing a save from Caparros. Unfortunately for the Ateneo goalkeeper, she couldn’t react fast enough to prevent Castañeda from doubling the Lasallians’ lead from close range. The first half soon ended with both teams venturing deeper yet looking less sharp in the attacking third.

The second half was played with less pace, favoring the leading La Salle team. Hans Smit’s girls also produced the better chances early in the half. As early as the 46th minute, Shannon Arthur had a neat look only for her to shoot off the mark. The next great opportunity happened 18 minutes later, when Inquig failed to execute what would have been a sublime volley inside the box.

As the gulf between the two teams remained at two goals, the Lady Eagles managed to pull one back through substitute Tessa Bernardo. With 21 minutes remaining, she eluded the defense before striking magnificently to beat Palacios at her near post. It jolted the Ateneans, who had witnessed their men’s counterparts pull off a comeback just before their game. The Lady Eagles could have indeed made it a level game in the 73rd minute had Amoncio shot with more power when given the chance.

As the game approached the business end, La Salle were protecting a precarious lead. Keeping the ball better, they looked poised to see the game out. And so they did, with the help of an insurance goal coming in the 81st minute. Off a broken set piece play, Inquig got to the ball before everyone else and then calmly darted her shot into the net. It looked to be enough in assuring a victory for La Salle, although there could have been more if Arthur and Kyra Dimaandal had finished their chances.

In added time, Ateneo got to hit the back of the net, but the linesman flagged a player for offside. It mattered little for the Lady Archers, who simply waited a few moments for the final whistle that confirmed their fifth win in as many games.

“I just told the girls that we can’t let the repetition of first round [to happen] here. We need to protect the lead and we need to score. Hindi ‘yung nagpapahabol,” Smit remarked of his players’ display after the match. Having done a better job this time than in their first round seven-goal thriller, the Lasallians displayed ‘true character’. according to the tenured mentor.

Just an arm’s reach of breaking a two-year absence in the final, the Lady Archers will prepare for an encounter with the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons next Sunday. The Lady Eagles will also face the same opponent, but not before a week-long break that should be enough for them to regroup amidst their ailing bid for a place in the final.

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