The Ateneo Blue Eagles are currently having a campaign of hell in this UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament. It’s been a case of Jekyll and Hyde for the Blue Eagles, as they have already experienced four defeats in the first round of the eliminations. Ateneo defeated Adamson University and National University, but experienced losses against archrivals De La Salle University, University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, and Far Eastern University.
It has been wastefulness in front of the opposition goal and some careless defending that has cost the Blue Eagles this season. Of all their losses, it had arguably been against FEU where Ateneo were well and truly beaten. The rest, though, were very winnable matches for the Blue Eagles.
For Blue Eagles center-back Jeremiah Rocha, the past few games must have felt like the film Groundhog Day. Rocha said, “It’s like a cycle. We just keep giving it to them. Four games it was our fault.”
Rocha believes that Ateneo’s struggles this season were a case of the Blue Eagles having a fragile mentality. He believes that the Blue Eagles had lacked concentration in their past few games. Their latest loss to UST displayed their mental lapses. Both goals of UST, especially the second, could have been prevented. “We switched off”, he rued after the match. He added, “Really, just focus. That’s so key. It’s such a simple word but it’s key to this because we know we can do it. Our backline is pretty solid already but that’s what happens when you switch off.”
UST are Season 78’s surprise packages. Not a lot of people expected them to be this good after their dismal Season 77. Rocha admitted that UST had showed more hunger to win the game. “For the first few minutes we weren’t into the game yet. We had to warm up. We had to tell each other, ‘wake up, wake up’ the whole time. So yeah I think they wanted it more today but that’s only for today.”
The Ateneo head coach has already adjusted his defense multiple times this season. Merida’s latest adjustment was centered on the personnel change for both full-back positions. Rocha believed that there’s not much Ateneo can do more defensive-wise. It’s just a matter of polishing. “I think we just need to train more, train more, train harder.”
Set-pieces were key to Ateneo’s attack last Season 77. The Blue Eagles have added more, however, in terms of open play, but a lack of finishing has plagued them this season. Ateneo could have beaten La Salle and UST if only they had taken their chances. Rocha said that the Blue Eagles need to improve on that facet of their game. “We can’t rely on ‘oh there will be a next time’. We need to (score) once were given the opportunities.”
Four losses already this season have turned Ateneo’s next game vs the University of the East into a must-win match. Urgency has crept into the Blue Eagles since they want to remain in the hunt for a Final Four slot. “We just need to win. That’s it. No more thinking that there’s gonna be a next game. We just need to focus on this game and then the next game we’ll focus on that but right now win against UE. That’s our focus right”, said Rocha.
Rocha played down suggestions that Ateneo would have to rely on other results to make the Final Four after their poor start. “We’re just gonna try to win. Whatever happens, happens. God will sort it out.” And win immediately they should, in order to prevent another bad year like they had in Season 76. With just eight more games before the post-season, the Blue Eagles are on borrowed time if they want to make it into the Final Four.