One last match and it’s for the title.
There is a huge difference in the performance history between the two teams who are to meet for this year’s UAAP Season 77 women’s football finale: a team that’s been a regular in the championship rounds for most seasons, and the other, a team that’s about to enter the battle for the crown, in just their second time since ten years ago. Needless to say, it will be a fierce competition for domination. But there is one glaring story behind the previous meetings of the defending back-to-back queens, the Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws, and the challengers, the University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons.
FEU may have dominated with two titles in a row, but UP has become one of the teams they could not easily defeat. Just last year, the Lady Maroons had drawn the first round match against them but were defeated on the second round. Looking further into previous years, it was the losses of FEU from the Diliman-based squad, that became the deciding factor between a championship run or a debacle. Particularly during 74th season of the UAAP, where it was the De La Salle University (DLSU) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) who played for the title, relegating the then-defending titlists to third place.
This sequence continued up until this season, as UP won their first round match of a Marie Navea-Huff goal at the 42nd minute. The reigning queens would then bounce back to take one against their competition during the second round game, care of the goals from Charmaine Fagaragan and Sharmine Siaotong, who clinched the win and the first Finals ticket for FEU.
Have the Lady Tams found a solution to break their contrapelo curse against UP? Or will the Maroons make a breakthrough to appease their hunger for the gold?
We delve into the interesting details before we witness perhaps, one of the biggest women’s football matches in Philippine history on Sunday. To be held where else, but at the historic Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The lanky defender has been the Lady Maroons’ main figure at the back. Taller than FEU’s players, Marie could get in the way of aerial deliveries coming from the back and along the wings. Throughout UP’s games in the campaign, her challenges have been superb more often than not. As a result, opponents usually rely on nifty through balls to breach the UP defense, considerably the league’s best with only six goals conceded after eight games. Approaching the meaningful match on Sunday, the older of the Navea-Huff sisters may score again for UP, similar to their first round encounter against FEU, but she will most definitely look forward in disrupting the Lady Tamaraws’ attacking flow in order to boost her team’s chances of lifting the title at the end of 90 minutes or even more.
Cristina Delos Reyes
She scored a hattrick against UST, but looking at the bigger picture, that is just a speck of what the Season 74 Rookie of the Year brings to the team. Delos Reyes is a terrific player stationed at the number nine role. Although it seems that she plays slightly deeper than a usual striker, she has been a goalscoring threat throughout the season. Her commitment to win possession is suspect to her moving more in the middle of the park, and once armed with the ball everything can happen for UP on the attack. She often finds ways to unlock defenses with well-timed passes finding her targets. In addition, Delos Reyes’ ability to move skilfully past defenders makes it hard for players to defend her properly. With her upside, the Lady Maroons can truly make something out of nothing. As one of her team’s most experienced players, Cristina is anticipated by everyone to lead the team in dismantling FEU. To do so would mean so much in UP’s bid of dethroning the girls from Morayta.
The burly winger offers a much needed muscle in the Lady Maroons’ flanks. Directly involved in most of her team’s goals, Kali has the tendency to cause a lot of problems when in the attacking third. As soon as she gains possession, options are limitless for Huff and UP. She possesses the ability to trouble fullbacks with her persistence in dribbling the ball towards more favorable positions, while also having the skill of locating teammates around the area which can stretch opposing defenses. Kali may not be the quickest winger in the league, but her determination in winning balls back can make a difference. Physically one of the most intimidating figures in women’s football, Kali Huff is a game changer for UP with what she is capable of achieving on the pitch. How she maximizes her talents and makes decisions remain to be seen especially in the championship round of the UAAP women’s football division, a situation where no one in her team has ever been before.
With three goals to her name, Mary Obra is one player FEU would like to keep their eyes on. Though all her strikes this season came against UST this year, Obra has been the kind of player no defense could afford to underestimate. She has excellent marksmanship that often results in shots on target. Although her conversion rate is something FEU may well be pleased with, last season’s top rookie can produce magical moments given the opportunity. To help her team reach the championships, she must put herself well into good positions in order to win or receive balls at dangerous areas so that she can focus more in doing the thing she perhaps likes to do the most: score goals.
As the Lady Tamaraws’ free kick specialist, Dolino has been consistent in making sure that her deliveries will fall into the right places. Aside from that aspect, she thrives on hindering opponents from further penetrating into FEU’s penalty area. She provides stability at the back, and will certainly challenge anyone in an uncompromising manner. It was seen during the Ateneo game in round 2. FEU played firmly on defense, but her departure allowed Ateneo to move easier into the FEU box. She will need to be as pesky as she can be to stymie the UP offense.
A vital part of the two previous championship teams, Barbie Sobredo is no stranger when it comes to winning a title. The midfielder is a magnificent ball distributor, who often lurks around opposing players with the sole aim of finding the right teammate to connect a sure pass. Sobredo also has a knack for scoring, making it more imperative for UP to contain her. The one weakness which the Lady Maroons exposed in Sobredo is her ill temper, that led to her dismissal in the first game between them this year. The veteran may be composed enough, but one sudden implosion may spell danger for FEU.
The forward is one of FEU’s lethal menaces. Her ability to exploit defenses with her speed, ball control, positioning, and shooting accuracy, alongside her unwavering character on the pitch, already bodes well for the defending champions. Her second-minute strike against UP in the second round was due to a blistering display of all those four aspects of her game. She is the kind of player who can singlehandedly take down a team, but her team’s solid display as a unit prevents her from running the show. On Sunday, Fagaragan needs to be at her best so she could do her part in wreaking havoc on the opposing defenders.
Aggressive could be one word to describe Araneta. As one of the league’s prolific scorers, this forward is always a marked woman in UAAP football. The reason behind such treatment is her hunger to move with the ball and make things happen for her team. She has good awareness that guides her in moving, regardless of owning possession or not. Finishing has been a bit of a concern, but the way she consistently get chances is positive for the Lady Tamaraws. A scoring threat herself, Araneta also has the tendency to stretch defenses with key passes to teammates. Last but not the least, the striker’s unorthodox movement can lure defenders to commit late challenges, which may earn FEU dead ball situations. For her to do well against UP, she would need to wisely and gracefully play her way around the beefy UP back row.
UP leads the league in goals scored and conceded this season. A huge reason behind that is their ability to put pressure on opposing players, and when successful, go on to pounce on the errors and launch a rapid assault up front. Most of UP’s goals come from the wings, highlighting the importance of the area in establishing their offensive rhythm. Nonetheless, it does not limit them to create solely along the flanks as they have capable players who can distribute it to unmarked players or even move into more dangerous areas and work their way in dismantling defenses. When it comes to defending, the ladies in maroon also apply the same method, but glaringly differ as the back line appears to be more intact in the middle. A superb performance has been required in their first round win against FEU, and looks like it would take another stellar performance from everyone in their defending third to stand a good chance of grabbing the crown from the Morayta-based squad.
FEU, meanwhile, plays well with pace. The Lady Tamaraws are equipped with killer speed that can tear apart even the meanest of defenses. In their most recent outing against UP, the girls from Morayta upped the tempo to prevent UP from playing their brand of football. Despite the lack of superior height, FEU plays more physical in order to challenge the opposition. Having done so throughout the season, they effectively stifled their opponents who have been forced to defend instead. Creating spaces for each other has been a brief problem for Coach Let Dimzon, but it seems that everything was fixed after beating the Lady Maroons in their penultimate elimination round. Passing has been constant to keep the foes guessing. More of it come Sunday will put FEU in a comfortable position.
Output trends and pointers
Like the best four teams in the men’s division, both UP and FEU inflicted more damage in the first half than in the second. Scoring in the first half of each match they played always resulted in a win for both the finalists, further boosting the significance of a good start on Sunday. In fact, the only two comeback games in their division featured both teams. FEU overturned a 1-0 deficit against Ateneo to claim a 2-1 win, while UP wiped out UST’s early lead with three goals just inside the next 25 minutes en route to a finals-clinching 3-1 triumph.
Both teams have also been fantastic in sustaining leads, with FEU losing leverage only twice—one of those eventually restored while UP always secured victory whenever they score first. With that said, keeping UP scoreless in the first half will also be a big thing for FEU. So far, the Tams have never given away goals in the opening half hour of games but they lost to UP when they conceded one of the two goals scored against them before halftime.
Although the Maroons appeared to have been less productive in the second half, their eagerness in getting a result is evident with the use of statistics. They managed to claim three points more after scoring in the last 15 minutes of play. FEU, on their part, have been scored against late in matches. Hence, it is something that they would want to curb for them to emerge on top.
Scoring more than the opponent has been the main trend for the Lady Tamaraws. It does not mean that it is a bad thing but when offense fails to contribute, it is better if they will assure that defense will hold on. Overall, it’s safe to say that both teams are resilient enough to cope with slim deficits but coming back from 2-0 down then makes it almost impossible to get a draw. So perhaps the best advice we could give the trailing team is for them to keep it tight and rally until the end.
Of course with everything on the line, it’s difficult to predict how things will turn out. Both teams are skillful enough to reach the championship game and with no one holding an incentive, it will go down to desire, determination, and dedication. Will the hunger of winning a championship be enough for UP to overcome FEU or will the Lady Tamaraws crush the Lady Maroons’ ambitions while also celebrating a third consecutive triumph? — Brian Tamayao, and Aeron Paul Valderrama
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