Down by a goal in their second round encounter against the University of the East Red Warriors, the Far Eastern University Tamaraws needed a source of inspiration to turn their fortunes around.
Luckily for them, a legend got himself enough time to enter a stage he used to dominate. Arnel “Nano” Amita came off the bench to inspire the Tamaraws to their first come-from-behind triumph, and only their second overall, last Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The result means a lot to an FEU squad that finished the first round in seventh place. In uncharted territory, the Tamaraws couldn’t afford to lose more ground on fellow playoff contenders. Amita, after the game, shared to his thought process en route to aiding the green-and-gold to a huge comeback.
“Naawa ako sa team kasi down kami 1-0 then sabi nga ng mga kasama ko na kailangan talaga nila ako sa team. Hindi naman sa pinagmamayabang na kaya ko silang buhatin pero kaya ko silang I-cheer up kasi alam ko na may kakayahan silang manalo din as a team,” the Compostela Valley native narrated.
The fifth year midfielder had missed two seasons following a right anterior cruciate ligament tear, which he sustained just before Season 78. He was supposed to return last season but was unlucky to miss out anew after aggravating the same area.
After undergoing months in rehabilitation, Amita finally made his Season 80 debut just last month when FEU lost 3-1 to the De La Salle University Green Archers. He then never saw action again in the first round, citing concerns over his recovery.
“Ayaw lang ng doctor ko na i-rush ko na naman. Sabi ng doctor ko nagtake ako ng seven months. Tinyagaan ko ‘yung seven months then last two to three weeks hindi ko siya matitiyagaan baka raw kasi mapunit kaya buong first round hindi ako makapaglaro.”
Remaining patient, Amita helped spark a meaningful fightback from the Tamaraws in their clash with the Red Warriors. His presence alone added problems to the UE defense, which FEU made the most out of.
Three goals in the span of 14 second half minutes overturned the deficit the Tamaraws were facing. Resty Monterona spearheaded the charge by scoring two quick goals that capsized what looked to be a cruising UE ship.
On his part, Amita made the second goal by locating Alex Rayos, Jr. down the right wing. The third year player then strung a pass towards Monterona, who coolly spotted past UE’s Frank Rieza. It was a move that perfectly demonstrated the FEU’s cutting edge, and all it took was an inspired showing by the upcoming Kaya-Iloilo midfielder.
“Matagal na kasi silang gusto ako makitang maglaro so sinabi ko sa kanila huwag kayo mag-alala. Papasok ako. Iiskor tayo. Ipu-push ko kayo as a team,” Amita pointed out. The 23 year-old’s words came to life, as the Tamaraws torched the Red Warriors late in the match.
The win effectively revives FEU’s hopes of a Final Four spot, as they have maintained the four-point gap between them and fourth-placed La Salle. Previously the gap stood at five, but the losses by UE and NU meant an improved opportunity for the Tamaraws to advance into the playoffs.
There are six more games to be played yet. Amita is aware that the path towards making it to the semifinal will never be easy. As for him, he believes the team has enough heart and confidence to get to where they want to.
“Alam namin na challenge lang ni Lord sa amin ito. Alam namin sa sarili namin na kaya pa naming makabawi,” the graduating Sports and Recreational Management major asserted.
The Tamaraws are now treating every game as a cup final in order to come close to replicating their achievements in Season 79. Their next championship game, so to speak, comes on March 15 against the University of Santo Tomas Golden Booters.