The National University Bulldogs affirmed their push for final four contention in the UAAP Season 77 men’s football tournament, after a 3-1 rout of the University of Santo Tomas Golden Booters, Sunday evening at the FEU Diliman football field.
The first three minutes of the first half saw a couple NU attackers come close to scoring an early goal. Patrick Valenzuela had the chance to draw first blood just a minute into the meeting, finding himself unchecked by the top right corner and tried to strike one in, but the ball ended up flying past the bar. Francis Jay Abalunan too got into position for the easy goal around the 3rd minute, escaping the UST back to go one-on-one with UST goalie John Rey Catalino, but the keeper managed to sweep the ball from under Abalunan’s feet before he could get into position for a shot.
Abalunan entered the scorecard at the 7th minute, after a free kick from beyond the penalty box went straight past the UST keeper and into the net, putting the Bulldogs up 1-0.
What followed however was an uneventful half of play, with UST struggling to mount their counterattack and every attack mounted by the Bulldogs’ defenders. Steven Anotado, the league’s leading scorer prior to the Christmas break struggled to cut through the NU back to find the easy look. Anotado’s lone near-hit for the half was a volley from way beyond the penalty box at the 40th minute that NU keeper Pepito Hayeson safely caught.
Care of the trio of Paolo Salenga, Valenzuela, and Abalunan, the Bulldogs meanwhile managed to land a couple more attacks. It was Jezer Jalandoni however who gave the Bulldogs their second goal at the 43rd minute, finding himself unchecked in the middle of the penalty box to send the ball flying into the net. Valenzuela had the chance to add another one to the NU tally just as the 45th minute came along, after receiving the volley from the midfield and beating the offside trap to go one-on-one with the UST goalie, but lost control of the ball before he could get into position for the shot. At the half, NU led 2-0.
It was around the 50th minute that the Tigers’ offense finally got going, with Marvin Jake Bricenio’s crosses creating a couple of good looks for UST. Around the 53rd minute, Kenneth Tuzon had the chance to finally score one for the Tigers after receiving the back pass from the clutter in front of the goal and sending a powerful strike from just beyond the penalty box, but the ball ended up going wide. Jogi Celiz too had the chance to finally get one for UST at the 62nd minute, after corralling the corner kick from Bricenio, but the ball was knocked off course and out of play by NU’s Jalandoni.
Entering the last 20 minutes of the half, the pace continued to pick up. Jacob Gomez had the chance to bag the Bulldogs’ third goal at the 71st minute after connecting with a low cross from the right wing with a header, but the ball landed in the UST goalie’s hands. Later at the 74th, Anotado had the chance to finally score, cutting through the NU defense to receive the inside pass and pull up for the shot, but once again the ball ended up whirring past the right post.
It was Dexter John Benecio who gave the Tigers a lease on life at the 79th minute, spotting a hole in the NU back and after finding himself unchecked in the penalty box, sent the ball flying past the NU goalie into the net.
The Tigers however did not have much time to celebrate, as the Bulldogs mailed their response two minutes later at the 81st minute care of Salenga, who kept his composure amidst the chaos in front of the goal to corral the ball and flick it past the UST goalie and into the net, putting the Bulldogs up 3-1 with less than 10 minutes of regular time left.
Though the Tigers continued to attack the goal in every opportunity, they found themselves struggling to score, amidst the Bulldog’s defense. Efren Menares had the chance to renew the Tigers’ hopes at the 84th minute, connecting with a corner kick by Bricenio with a header in front of the goal, but the ball ended up in the hands of NU keeper Hayeson. At the end of 90 minutes, it was the Bulldogs who walked away with the victory.
“Wala naman kaming binago sa sistema. Pino-polish lang namin yung sistema, and yun, nag-materialize,” said NU head coach Wilhelm Laranas when asked about the victory. Coach Laranas related that the team attended a five-day training camp in La Trinidad, Benguet during the Christmas break to help them prepare for the rest of the season.
Coach Laranas also praised his team’s defenders, who stifled UST’s attackers throughout the game. “Defend, and kung makuha na ang bola, counterattack.”
“Yung mindset, mentality, at approach sa game,“ said UST coach Marjo Allado when asked about what the source of UST’s struggles may have been. Coach Allado however commended his players’ efforts. “Second half, pag dating sa puso meron naman si UST eh.”
With the win, NU is now at fourth behind FEU, who completed a 9-1 rout of Adamson earlier today. UST meanwhile stays at sixth, three points below fifth-placed De La Salle University.