#1 University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons vs #4 University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers
How UP qualified
The Fighting Maroons secured passage to the post-season courtesy of a 1-0 (Daniel Gadia penalty, 77’) win against the National University Bulldogs in their second round encounter last April 10, 2016, at the McKinley Hill Stadium in Taguig. It was a straightforward second round for the Fighting Maroons, save for the 3-3 draw against the Growling Tigers at the start of the phase, they won six consecutive games while keeping as many clean sheets.
The last of those wins came against the defending champions Far Eastern University. It must be remembered that FEU had eliminated UP in Season 77’s Final Four stage. This time, however, UP took revenge last April 21, 2016, when Kyle Magdato scored the lone goal in the last minute of first half stoppage time to give the Fighting Maroons a 1-0 win against the Tamaraws. UP’s win not only eliminated FEU from the Final Four; it allowed them to finish in 1st place at the end of the elimination round.
How UST qualified
Despite their fantastic first-round efforts, UST qualified for the post-season by the slimmest of margins. A draw for FEU against UP would have been enough for the former to enter the post-season. That would have left UST and Ateneo to battle it out in a play-off to determine who would get the last Final Four slot. But UP won to not only seal 1st place, but also to lessen the complications. After the UP-FEU game was UST’s match versus the De La Salle University Green Archers. A UST win would have allowed the Growling Tigers to finish as high as 2nd place.
Thus, the Growling Tigers kept their feet off the pedals. UST head coach Marjo Allado rested midfielder Ronald Batisla-Ong, and the performance of his squad dipped. Batisla-Ong and the suspended Karl Bronda’s absences allowed the Green Archers to rule midfield. It ended up as a routine 4-0 win for the Green Archers, as the Growling Tigers simply looked content and relieved to have entered the post-season.
The case for UP
Defense. Simply defense. The Fighting Maroons have had goal-scoring problems ever since former striker Jinggoy Valmayor ended his UAAP run last Season 77. After fourteen games played in the elimination round, the Fighting Maroons have only scored 16 goals, a sub-par return for a team their caliber. Out of the top six teams, UP have scored the least amount of goals, with opponents UST next in line with 21. Their failure to score even just twenty goals this year could be have been the reason they were out. However, what they lack up front, they have more than made up for at the back.
Though UP have the worst goal-scoring record amongst the top six, the same cannot be said of their defensive record. The Fighting Maroons have been the league’s best defensive team this season, only conceding five goals in their fourteen outings. Goalkeeper Ace Villanueva has been alert when called into action, but his back four, led by center-backs Patxi Santos and Ian Clarino, have simply been superb this season. Aside from Clarino, Santos, and Villanueva, defensive midfielder Nino Muros has been crucia, as he does the dirty work in midfield and allows the full-backs to venture forward.
For UP to beat UST, they need to maintain that defensive solidity and put in the crucial goal. The Fighting Maroons have demonstrated their ability to win 1-0 at the end of ninety minutes, prevailing by such a margin on six occasions this season. With their wastefulness in front of goal and stinginess at the back, that may be all UP needs to advance to the finals.
The case for UST
In contrast to UP, UST have shown their capacity to score and concede numerous goals. It is remarkable to note that UST have a goal difference of 0, as the Growling Tigers have both scored and conceded 21 goals. The second round in particular has been disastrous for UST at the defensive end. The Growling Tigers have conceded 15 goals against the likes of La Salle, Ateneo, FEU, and UP collectively. That defensive record doesn’t bode well in the Final Four.
Despite that poor defensive record, UST made it to the Final Four mainly because of their stellar first round. What observers have noticed about UST is their tendency to perform better in the second half. The Growling Tigers are similar to a boxer who is losing on points after nine rounds, yet somehow manages to land a knockout blow to their opponent come the tenth and final round.
If UST can keep the game close after the first half, then they have a huge chance of pulling off a sucker punch after the break against UP. UST head coach Marjo Allado has drilled his players to be disciplined and intense during games. The Growling Tigers have demonstrated their ability to take absorb hits and defend for their lives. That resilience might be their key to a Finals slot.
Why UP will lose
As mentioned earlier, wastefulness in front of the goal. UP’s defensive record has bought them a place in the Final Four; whether it would be enough for a Finals ticket and a championship is another matter entirely. It takes UP so many chances to score one goal. The worry for the Fighting Maroons is that they could have already conceded before they themselves put the ball in the back of the net. The Growling Tigers have shown that they are capable of defending a 1-0 lead, and that could be troublesome for the Fighting Maroons.
Why UST will lose
In the end, it depends on how many hits UST can take in the first half. While their wastefulness in front of goal is evident, UP have shown their capability to open the scoring in the first half. Chasing a game doesn’t bode well for the Growling Tigers, as they have struggled to win games from losing positions. A good example would be UST’s 1-1 draw against Adamson University this past second round. Adamson had opened the scoring, and Allado had to put in Batisla-Ong to add some composure in midfield. Only a Batisla-Ong wonder goal saved UST in that game, as Adamson could have won it just before fulltime. If UP gets the lead early and defend resolutely, then UST will have a hard time winning from that position.
Key Fighting Maroons
Ian Clarino, Patxi Santos, and Daniel Gadia. The first two can be found in the backline, while the last is situated at midfield. Don’t let Clarino’s and Santos’ positions fool you, as both are dangerous in attack. Santos has shown that he is more than capable of bringing the ball out of defense, and his set-piece delivery can threaten any side. On the other hand, Clarino is a danger at set-pieces and can easily turn in a goal in those situations. With that said, though, the two center-backs have been the main reason for UP having made it this far. Expect them to carry the Fighting Maroons all the way, if possible.
As for Gadia, he adds brawn and creativity in the Fighting Maroons’ midfield. Gadia had struggled when played as a striker, but he has blossomed when placed back in midfield by UP head coach Anto Gonzales. He is an important part of the midfield, as he links defense to attack. He has also shown he can score goals this season.
Key Growling Tigers
The aforementioned Batisla-Ong, Bronda, and Zaldy Abraham. Both Batisla-Ong and Bronda play their trade in midfield. Batisla-Ong adds steel as the Growling Tigers’ enforcer. Despite his predominantly defensive role this season, Batisla-Ong displayed his ability to perform in a more advanced position when he scored twice against NU in the second round. Expect him, though, to play more defensively against UP.
In addition to Batisla-Ong, Bronda has been important to the Growling Tigers’ midfield. Bronda is silent but crucial, as he is UST’s metronome. All he does is pass the ball to his teammates; it sounds and looks simple, but it is a joy to watch, as his speed of thought is so quick, he can instantly pick out a pass and position himself for his teammates.
Lastly, Abraham, who has been excellent in goal for UST. It is his first year in the UAAP, and he has made numerous fine saves to help the Growling Tigers. The young keeper, however, must learn to keep his cool, as he has needlessly involved himself in some skirmishes this season. If he focuses on his goalkeeping, then UST will be difficult to score against.
Perhaps the last time both schools played against each other in a game of this magnitude was in the Season 74 Finals, which was settled by a solitary Valmayor goal. Since then, UST have been winless against UP. It was only in the first round this season that UST finally won against UP, 1-0, courtesy of Batisla-Ong’s penalty. That game summed up the best of UST and the worst of UP. The Growling Tigers displayed their resilience, while the Fighting Maroons were wasteful in front of goal.
The next encounter of both teams was a classic. UP were two goals up in the first twenty minutes, only for UST to equalize before halftime. The Fighting Maroons then took a 3-2 lead, but the Growling Tigers somehow managed to earn a draw after Jayson Rafol scored to make it 3-3 with minutes left on the clock. Incidentally, UST have not yet lost to UP this season.
UP to edge UST, 1-0, and advance to the Finals. Biggest basis of this is the second round performance of both teams. UST clearly had a hard time all throughout that period, while UP ended with six wins and as many clean sheets at the end of the elimination round. UST need to rediscover the magic they had in the first round. Failure to do so might mean UP take this one by the narrowest of margins.
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