On a cold February night at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field in Ateneo, the UP Maroon Booters did just enough to book a spot in the playoffs with a 2-0 triumph versus the UE Red Warriors thanks to goals from co-captains Vincent Aguilar and Jinggoy Valmayor.
The first 10 minutes of the game was fairly contested but the Maroons gradually dictated the pace afterwards. Michael Simms had a shot blocked while Valmayor’s header was soft enough for the UE defense to deal with ease. On the other side, the Red Warriors had occasional chances. With 21 minutes gone by, Jo Mallen had an opportunity to threaten UP with a set piece but his delivery failed to reach a man in white shirt. That was the closest UE got in scoring a goal as the Diliman-based squad reasserted themselves. Daniel Gadia attempted to dink a shot past Clores but the keeper was wise enough to collect. Inside the last 10 minutes of the half, Valmayor and Ryan Fermin had attempts to put UP in front but did not make the most of it. The teams entered half time with the score as it was when the game started.
The Maroons played more aggressively in the second half, perhaps eager to break the deadlock to their favour. Valmayor had three good chances; two of them blocked inside the half’s opening two minutes which were both halted by the Warriors’ stiff defense while the one that came at the 49th minute was off target. Like in the first half, UE managed to produce a shot against the run of play but Mallen was denied by UP goalie Ace Villanueva who tipped the UE marksman’s shot over the bar. The tie was finally snapped at the 54th minute when Valmayor found Aguilar whose shot went to the ceiling of the goal to make it 1-0 for UP.
Falling a goal down, UE looked to sustain possession in building up attack towards grabbing an equalizer. It was not meant to be as Villanueva denied Mallen again twice to keep the score in favor of the Maroons. Despite their best efforts, UE was unable to turn the game’s rhythm as the dominant UP squad continued to press for more goals. Carlos Monfort met Valmayor’s cross but his header went wide two minutes after the hour mark. The league leaders did not have to wait longer for a second goal which came 67 minutes in. Valmayor got a vital touch off a scuffle inside the UE box to pad UP’s lead to two. It looked like the Maroons will cruise towards a repeat thrashing of last round’s game where they manhandled the Red Warriors but UE fended off further attacks to end the game two-nil.
UP Coach Anto Gonzales was critical of his wards’ performance, mainly in the opening stages. “I thought we didn’t play very well. Today, I don’t think na-fulfill namin ‘yung objective namin. 20% lang ‘yung na-achieve namin of what we’re supposed to do, especially sa attacking side,” he stated. With two more games to play, the mentor vows to play to their best as they are not mindful of whoever they may face in the semifinals as far as match-ups are concerned.
Meanwhile, Coach Ryan Marinay of UE is pleased with the boys’ performance but concedes that the season has been long gone and is just hopeful to get the most out of the coming games. “Maganda naman pinakita nila pero kulang pa talaga,” he said as he and the Red Warrirors will aim to gear up for next season.
Now with 27 points, UP is officially the first team to have entered the Final Four. However, it does not guarantee them first place as three other teams still stand a chance of replacing them at the top by the end of the elimination round. UE, are now anything but certain of finishing the season in seventh place. With four points, the Red Warriors do not have enough games to chase UST for sixth place while they can nail seventh with a game coming up this Thursday against Adamson.
with notes from Aeron Paul Valderrama