The Far Eastern University Tamaraws are still the kings of the football field. A 94th minute extra time goal from last year’s MVP, Paolo Bugas, lifted the Tams to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the De La Salle University Green Archers and a second straight UAAP Men’s Football Championship, Sunday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
As expected of the league’s top scoring team, the Tamaraws opened the first half with aggressive midfield play and a bombardment of shots from long range. Noli Chavez fired the first shot, launching a powerful strike just at the edge of the box a minute into the half. His shot, however, sailed past the post. Four minutes later, Audie Menzi had another good look from beyond the box, but his shot was knocked away by La Salle goalie, Raphael de Guzman. The next 20 minutes saw the Tamaraws fire at will from both inside and around the box, but were unable to send anything into the net.
It was captain Gio Diamante who put an end to the Archers’ offensive drought, powering his way through the midfield in the 20th minute before launching from the edge of the box. The Tamaraws unable to disrupt his pace. The shot, however, was easily collected by FEU goalie, Michael Menzi. The next sequence saw Menzi caught holding the ball while stepping outside of the penalty area, handing La Salle an indirect free kick from the edge of the box. The shot was taken by Nathan Alquiros, whose powerful shot sent the ball over the FEU wall and into the side of the post. Furthermore, the ball bounced back into play, and was eventually collected by Menzi.
The Archers’ offense got some much needed help from the speedy Sabin Bustamante, whose skillful and lightning-quick drive for the top of the field led to a barrage of La Salle shots in the remainder of the half. The Tamaraws, meanwhile, looked to the fiery duo of Jhan Jhan Melliza and Eric Giganto, who collaborated for a couple of near goals around the 30 minute mark. Melliza kept the Archers’ on their toes with shots from the edge of the box and long volleys that were easily received by Giganto, who lurked at the left post. Much to his frustration, Giganto’s headers and point-blank taps on the ball ended either getting collected by the keeper, or sailing past the post. At the end of a heated 45 minutes, the score was still at 0-0.
La Salle’s Sabin Bustamante and Chuck Uy collaborated for the first great shot of the second half at the 49th minute. Bustamante sent a marvelous through pass to Uy, who launched the ball amid the clutter in front of the goal. FEU keeper Menzi, however, dove in time to scoop up the shot. The Archers took advantage of the visibly fatigued FEU to turn the tide of the midfield battle in their favor. In addition, a couple of free kicks from FEU’s Arnel Amita came close to breaking the deadlock, but none of his powerful shots could get into the net.
The silence was finally broken at the 59th minute, when a corner from La Salle’s Nathan Alquiros was collected by graduating Captain, Gio Diamante, who ease-fully flung in the ball from the top right corner of the box before anyone from the Tamaraws could force him into an awkward position. Diamante followed up his goal with an emphatic celebration for which he was given a yellow card.
However, the Tamaraws showed no signs of faltering, sending in Justin Calamba to replace Noli Chavez in an attempt to add some pressure on the attack. At the 71st minute, the Tamaraws’ aggressive push finally bore fruit. Goal-savvy Amita found himself with a golden opportunity to strike, going one-on-one with La Salle keeper, de Guzman. De Guzman dove in time to stop Amita’s shot, but lost his grip on the ball. The league’s leading scorer Eric Giganto plowed his way through the Archers’ defense, winning the ball and smashing it into the net. All of a sudden the game was tied at 1-1.
La Salle kept their composure, and just as the 81st minute clocked in, Bustamante, who had led the charge, gave the La Salle faithful something to celebrate. After forcing everyone in the FEU back to a compromising position, Bustamante simply chipped the ball into the open goal, leaving the Tamaraws stunned in place. With ten minutes left to play, the Archers led 2-1.
The La Sallians’ euphoria, unfortunately, proved to be short-lived. After two minutes, three-time Best Striker, Jhan Jhan Melliza, powered his way into the penalty box, and with no one from La Salle to contest, executed a powerful strike that sent the ball flying to the back of the net. The score was tied again at 2-2.
Scrambling to break the deadlock, both teams were relentless in every following attack. At the 89th minute, Melliza came close to doubling his tally, and handing the Tamaraws championship gold. After finishing another one of his feared runs, he managed to get La Salle goalie, de Guzman, out of position, opening the La Salle goal. Melliza needed only to tap the ball into the direction of the net, but hardy La Salle defender, Matthew Nierras, rushed in time to knock Melliza’s shot off-course and out of play.
Despite another thrilling exchange of nail-biting drives for the goal, neither team could score against the other. With 90 minutes of regular time and three minutes of injury time gone, the score was still 2-2. For the second straight week, the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium was booked for another one hundred twenty minute game.
The Tamaraws entered the 30 minutes of extra time with two players down after injuries: Justin Calamba and RJ Joyel. Unable to put up the same level of offensive aggression, the Tamaraws settled for smooth and steady midfield drives. At the 94th minute, the Tamaraws’ were rewarded with glory once more. Last year’s MVP, Paolo Bugas, who had missed almost the entirety of the second round due to an injury, found himself with enough space in the corner of the box to launch a shot that sent the ball flying past the La Salle goalie and into the net. Just four minutes into extra time, and the lead was once again with the defending champions, 3-2.
La Salle’s Chuck Uy came close to forcing another deadlock just two minutes later, powering his way into the box and going one-on-one with Menzi. Uy’s shot, however, was effortlessly scooped up by the Tamaraw.
The Tamaraws applied enough defensive pressure to dominate the midfield, and force the Archers into awkward tries from around the box. At the 111th minute, midfielder Nicolas Ferrer Jr. was sent out with a red card, leaving the Tamaraws with ten men. Five minutes later, Arnel Amita was sent off after being slapped his second yellow card of the game. But with the Archers still unable to find an easy way to attack the box, the nine-man Tamaraw squad needed only to apply more defensive pressure. As the final whistle was blown, it was the boys in green and gold celebrating.
“Ang goal lang namin ngayon ang manalo at nagawa namin ‘yun. Madaming red card pero panalo pa rin,” said FEU Assistant Coach, Dexter Chio, after the game. “Nung nauna mag-goal ang La Salle, bumaba ang morale nila [FEU players]. Kaya inangat din naming at i-encourage na tapusin ang game na panalo.”
“Mag-focus sa defending, lalo na nung nakuha iyong lamang,” said Coach Chio when asked about head coach Kim Chul Su’s instructions in the extra period. Coach Chio admitted that they had indeed resorted to delaying the game to protect their lead.
On the other side of the field, La Salle head coach, Hans Smit, commended his boys for their great focus and tenacity.
“Discipline-wise, the boys [La Salle] did well, and I know we’ll do better next year,” said La Salle Head Coach Hans Smit when asked about his team’s performance. “I never really say anything too much about rookies, sophomores, or seniors. It doesn’t matter; it’s a team.
“Sad to say, they didn’t get it in their final year,” said Coach Smit in reference to his graduating players. “But at least we got closer to what we’ve been trying to get the past four or five years. We reached the finals. It’s useless to sulk and cry over spilled milk. We just need to work for next year and do better next year.” Smit related that some of his players had been invited to try out for First Division UFL clubs, something he looks forward to seeing.
After the match the league announced the brilliant players of the season. La Salle’s Raphael de Guzman and Nathan Alquiros were named Best Goalkeeper and Best Midfielder respectively. The University of the Philippines’ Ian Clarino and Jinggoy Valmayor also took home awards, with Clarino named Best Defender and Valmayor Best Striker. Ateneo’s Julian Roxas was named Rookie of the Year. League newcomers Adamson University Soaring Falcons were handed the Fair Play Award. Jhan Jhan Melliza, who scored FEU’s second goal, was named Most Valuable Player.
The Tamaraws will be celebrating their second straight ‘treble.’ The Lady Tamaraws of the Women’s Division and the Baby Tamaraws of the Junior’s Division also successfully defended their titles.