[nextpage Title = “Final Four”]
Written by: Aeron Paul Valderrama, Brian Tamayao, and Dan Manglinong
Two years ago, when the National University entered the frame of UAAP men’s football competitions, a new format was initiated: the top four teams go through the semifinals with the first two seeds having a twice-to-beat advantage against their lower-ranked opponents. At the end of a gruelling eliminations phase, it was #1 Ateneo de Manila University who faced #4 De La Salle University and University of the Philippines took the #2 spot against Far Eastern University. Ateneo and UP got the better of the two matchups and went on to play for the title. Victory went to the Blue Eagles, who ended the reign of the Fighting Maroons in two matches that both went through penalty shootouts.
Fast forward to 2015, as we enter into the postseason in this year’s UAAP tournament and the cast has been set. Coincidentally, it is the same semifinals pairing from the aforementioned season: Ateneo vs. La Salle, and UP vs. FEU. However, the tables have turned this time as La Salle finished at the top of the leaderboard, with FEU and UP occupying the next two slots. Ateneo booked the final ticket in the last few minutes of the eliminations. What is interesting is that there will be no twice-to-beat incentives, instead there will be one-off matches to determine the protagonists of the Finals the following week.
Which teams have the heart to live one more day? Who among them have the hunger to win it all? We take a closer look on how the teams fared against the competition to give you a gauge on what to expect on the epic first day of March at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title = “DLSU-ADMU”]
La Salle-Ateneo: More than just a rivalry
Ateneo’s blue and La Salle’s green sprinkle color to Philippine sports folklore as one of the everlasting rivalries in collegiate basketball. Unknown to many, these two schools also take great pride of their football heritage, having coveted several pieces of silverware and produce some of the country’s monumental players. Fated to meet in the semifinals, today’s booters in green and blue will duel with each other on Sunday to obtain a finals berth and the hope of taking home a UAAP Season 77 Men’s Football championship.
The last Ateneo-La Salle semifinals matchup happened back in 2013 when the format was introduced, following the participation of NU, which resulted in having seven teams in the league–the minimum for a Final Four format to be utilized. At that time, Ateneo gained the fabled but now defunct twice-to-beat advantage as the number one seeded team after 12 games. The advantage, was not needed, as they edged DLSU via penalties and eventually claimed the UAAP title. La Salle, having finished two previous seasons knocked out in the semis, will look to go beyond that and continue the pursuit towards ending a championship drought. They are slightly favored to reach the finals, primarily for their unbeaten record from the elimination rounds. In addition, they are set to play in the field where they feel most comfortable, the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. This has become their home turf since the old football field in campus turned into a lot that housed the University’s newest structure. Nonetheless, it is unwise to rule out the Ateneans who manage to find ways of giving DLSU a hard time in their 90-minute encounters. All their hard work and preparation will be tried and tested; for no one wants to lose this match under any circumstances.
Season 77 Head to Head Record:
La Salle (#1)
GK: Raphael de Guzman
This doesn’t warrant much explanation. Raphael de Guzman finished the elimination round as the top goalkeeper, having conceded only eight goals in thirteen outings despite starting the season not fully fit. His lightning-quick reflexes and wide wingspan had the league’s best strikes scratching their heads throughout La Salle’s campaign. De Guzman made excellent saves in La Salle’s two previous meetings with Ateneo. It is safe to say that he just needs to bring his A-game once more. However, this is his first appearance in the Final Four this Sunday. That being said, he must also avoid succumbing to pressure, especially in front of an expectant DLSU crowd.
DF: Nicolas Villacin
Villacin is a fearsome central defender and adept sweeper who knows how to use his size. Ateneo is a team full of skilled passers and finishers. The Eagles will be looking for new passing routes and scoring options this Sunday. The reliable center back has to be constantly alert to keep Ateneo’s forwards from finding ways around the league-best DLSU defense. Although only giving away nine goals, La Salle has allowed Ateneo to score once. Villacin needs to command the backline well by probing around to prevent giving good looks for Ateneo to score.
DF: Matthew Nierras
Nierras is a feisty fullback who can chase down and trouble anyone with the gall to try and take the ball past him. The senior also positions himself well on the DLSU defense, leading him to decisively block attempts by opponents within range. As one of La Salle’s most experienced players, the ex-Southridge standout is primed to guide his teammates on the pitch, whether on defense or on offense. Nierras is good in bringing the ball forward to his team, often establishing links with the midfield while pressuring wingers in order to stop a set-up off a cross from the flanks. His aggressive play is top-notch, often forcing opponents to err or move less threateningly. However, it may be too much should he commit many fouls.
MF: Nathan Alquiros
Often a marked man, Nate Alquiros is perhaps the league’s most devastating winger this season. His terrific ball handling, powerful crosses, and considerable accuracy make him a threat every time he has the ball atop. He can also send delicate balls off free kicks that may pose concern to the young Ateneo back line. Overall, it is difficult to find flaws in Alquiros’ game; but perhaps the easiest way to stop him is by depriving him of touches in dangerous areas. For DLSU to succeed, Alquiros needs to continue what he does best, but could also consider to be more willing to bang bodies or explore more passing options against a team packed with gritty defenders like Ateneo.
GK: JP Oracion
Ateneo’s sophomore goalkeeper has done a lot for Ateneo this season. Statuesque but quick on his feet, Oracion’s wide reach has helped Ateneo fend off their opponents numerous times in the elimination round. But like any other young goalie, Oracion is prone to commit those lapses that often lead to conceded goals. The game against La Salle is going to be his first playoff game in the collegiate league. The Archers’ team consists of players who can score from anywhere on the attacking third. This young man needs to go all out and throw in everything he’s got if he wants to get his team back in the finals.
DF: Kendall Colet
The rookie fullback has the great reflexes and presence of mind to stay in position at all times while keeping an eye on the goal. He provides the manpower Ateneo needs in dominating the wings. Just recently, he scored the 87th minute goal against UST that sent Ateneo into the Final Four. Colet has the guts and build to bang bodies and assert his size whenever the enemy has the ball in their box. Ateneo needs a player like Colet, who has remarkable ball control, not just in protecting their box but also in establishing their presence on the wing.
MF: Carlo Liay
The returning midfielder may just hold the key for Ateneo. The former Rookie of the Year had a less proactive role in terms of goalscoring in the second round and settled with the less glamorous role of being a pure midfield control tower. Still, his role in maintaining the Blue Eagle’s passing routes is worthy of citation. A capable scorer, with three goals to his name, Liay is going to need to step up and get himself in the position to score this coming semifinal match. With Mikko Mabanag on the sidelines, the Ateneans’ may need to depend on Liay taking charge in both distribution and attacking.
FW: Julian Roxas
With remarkable attacking awareness and the flexibility to position himself when receiving crosses and corners, the freshman knows how to keep composed in the penalty area and assert his presence when enemy defenders start to crowd around him. It’s been unsurprising that he’s Ateneo’s joint top scorer this season with four goals. He also scored Ateneo’s goal against La Salle in their 1-1 draw and may repeat that feat if he stays focused in his first Final Four game. It is also noteworthy that most of this lanky midfielder’s goals have come from set pieces, which might demand more assertion from him, as La Salle may adjust to defend him better.
La Salle is one of the more balanced teams in the league, capable of easily shifting between attacking and defensive football. When it comes to attacking, they rely a lot on their speedy wingers and midfielders, with players like Jose Montelibano, Jojo Borromeo, and Gerald Layumas who excel at powering their way through defenders and building threat after threat from the wing. With Nathan Alquiros also prowling on the wing, the Archers don’t shy away from sending the ball into the box via crosses and long balls, or resorting to long-range shots from the edge of the box.
The Archers’ defense meanwhile is anchored on players like Nicholas Villacin, who can dominate their range and easily force enemy midfielders and forwards into throwing away the ball. This allows the La Salle defenders to immediately regroup and send the ball back to either the midfield or the wings. Unlike the counterattack-savvy FEU, whose defenders have no problem charging into the midfield and directly aiding in redistributing the ball, La Salle’s defenders usually prefer either letting the wingers take the ball back up the field, or if needed, sending a longball back to the top of the field.
Ateneo prefers to course their offense through steady midfield passing. When it comes to getting the ball into the box, they privilege stealthy through passes by their wingers and forwards over highballs and volleys. Defensively, the Ateneans’ bread and butter is their young but remarkably feisty defensive personnel who show heart in every possession and refuse to back down whenever the ball drifts into their box. It’s this grit and willingness to hurt and get hurt that has made Ateneo one of the tougher teams to score against throughout the season.
What made Ateneo a serious contender this season is their ability to score off set pieces. Thanks to Mikko Mabanag, the Ateneans had people both on the field and the sidelines on their toes every free kick and corner Ateneo took. The thing is, Mabanag is out due to card accumulation, so the Eagles may resort to exploring other paths to the goal, with their top playmaker benched out. Although, other dead ball takers such as Emmanuel Paredes may take charge. This season, Paredes’ free kicks led into a couple of goals. Regardless, DLSU will be wary of this tendency and will probably do best not to foul unwisely inside the Ateneans’ attacking third.
Form guide and output trends:
|Form||Last 3 vs Top 5 Teams||Last 4 matches|
|Team||vs ADMU||vs Top 5 Teams||vs All Teams|
|Form||Last 3 vs Top 5 Teams||Last 4 matches|
|Team||vs DLSU||vs Top 5 Teams||vs All Teams|
Ateneo’s two wins out of their last four matches were against weaker opposition, whom at that time, were already eliminated from title contention. Those wins even came in unconvincing fashion. They controlled the R2 encounter with Adamson but could not finish their chances. They even got scored against late, threatening the three points that appeared to have been sealed before the hour mark. Against UST, it took a late winner from an unlikely source to defeat what has been the worst Tigers’ team in UAAP football history. This seems to be worrisome for the Season 75 Champions after getting silenced in their bouts against big teams. In both losses, Ateneo lacked movement in the attacking third. It is an area that they would have to improve vastly in order to boost their chances to progress. Like their recent conquerors, DLSU is a renowned defensive team, owning the best defensive statistics in the league. In attack, however, the Lasallians are not as imposing than they could have been and merely made the late chances matter against UP.
When split into six 15-minute periods, Ateneo edges La Salle out only in one segment if overall goal-scoring tendencies are to be glanced upon. During the first 15 minutes of the second half, Ateneo’s goal difference at that period is +2, four goals better than DLSU’s -2. In support, it is when Ateneo grabbed the lead in their second round match versus La Salle. But a problem for Ateneo is that they seem to find it difficult to sustain the pace of the game in the last 30 minutes of matches. They have a -4 goal difference at that extended period, notably poorest in the last 15 minutes. One of the goals La Salle scored in the last 30 minutes also happened in their meeting against the Eagles, when Yoshiharu Koizumi equalized to earn his team a point. Meanwhile, DLSU only conceded two in that stretch, both coming from the penalty spot. At the same time, the Lasallians have a tendency to score late in the game no matter who the opponents are. Across the board, the Archers have the better stats in most categories. On that note, it looks that La Salle are clear favorites in this tie.
What is not reflected in those numbers are two things–one countable while the other immeasurable. First, it has been difficult to tabulate the number of chances generated by each team, but certainly La Salle have done little in lessening opponents’ chances on goal, especially against top opposition. Still, they have only conceded nine goals–three of them from the penalty spot–throughout the 14 games they played this season and only two in the whole of second round. If they fail to minimize opponents’ chances, then that statistic will further highlight La Salle’s solid back line. The other factor is both teams’ eagerness in taking on each other, which in this context favors Ateneo. As any match against a fierce rival, no team wants to give in and surrender. The numbers and the form guide suggest that Ateneo are more likely to lose to La Salle, but the level-playing field plus their equal record with their semis opponents, indicate that there is always a good chance for Ateneo to deal DLSU their first and last loss of the season. As they usually say in this rivalry, stats often times do not matter. It has always been a clash where pride and the desire to win prevail.
Keys for La Salle:
-Dominate the midfield and the wings
Bother, contest, trouble, and out-hustle Ateneo’s midfielders every time they have the ball. In their two-game slump, Ateneo Coach JP Merida found the need to address issues on the attacking third where he thought that they lacked creativity. La Salle’s players usually employ high pressure to win ball back and properly executing it may suffocate the Ateneans to the point that they’ll run out of options and lose control.
-Stop conceding set pieces
Mabanag may be out for this match, but it is safe to say that the Eagles have now developed into a team who know how to capitalize on set pieces. After all, 14 of Ateneo’s 21 goals this season arrived as a result of set pieces. That’s a considerably high 67%, although their success rate has not been taken into account and may even be lower than that. To defend better in this situation, the Archers need to control their aggression and make sure they don’t let Ateneo take too many corners and free kicks to cause problems defensively. Moreover, they need to be properly positioned in every set piece scenario to prevent any Atenean from getting a vital touch at the end of each delivery.
-Break the back
The Ateneo defenders may be young, but they aren’t afraid to hurt and get hurt. They have been poor in games against tough opposition recently but a winner-takes-all match in the semis may just bring the best out of each Ateneo defender. For La Salle’s sake, they have the talent and the experience to outwit the Ateneo defense but they cannot do it haphazardly or they may pay the price.
-Lockdown on Liay
Carlo Liay is a terrific distributor with excellent awareness on every drive to the box. The Eagles struggled in games where Liay was sidelined. La Salle could greatly benefit should they manage to prevent him from finding his usual passing routes as it is when the Season 75 Rookie of the Year’s threat appears to be nullified.
-Enforce the offside trap with well-coordinated defense
The Ateneans struggle when it comes to beating offside traps. La Salle actively forcing the Eagles to go offside may lead to success for them. For them to do that, communication among defenders in green-and-white is essential. One man way below the line may present their opponents an easier chance in challenging De Guzman.
-Finish scoring opportunities better
It cannot be as simple as this. La Salle’s games this season were not high-scoring even if the squad played in a relatively fast tempo. A major reason behind that is the lack of fluency in finishing. DLSU only scored 24 goals this season, averaging 1.71 goals scored per game and 1.25 in eight games played against the top five teams. For them to bag the win, improvement in this aspect will spell the difference for sure.
Keys for Ateneo:
-Do not spare Paeng with one-dimensional offensive tactics
Strategize to score against the season’s top goalkeeper. Try to get him out of position on every given opportunity. He conceded five goals in open play but also gave away one of the four set goals via set pieces against Ateneo–happened to be in the corner sequence that Roxas headed into the goal. The rest of those were penalty kicks. Having said that, it may require more than scoring from set pieces for Ateneo to get the win. In order to do so, they need to work on excellent strategies to get the better of De Guzman and the rest of La Salle’s solid back line.
-Crowd the box
Without set-piece master Mabanag, the Blue Eagles need to make sure every man out there is free and ready to exploit every outlet at the top of the field. Whether this is a dead ball situation or not, having people in the box offers Ateneo a higher chance of finding the right man that could finish past de Guzman. The only thing they would have to overcome in this motive is outplaying La Salle’s defenders to get the first or second balls.
-Experiment with wing play.
Find other means to score besides set pieces. The Ateneans may want to consider going for high and long ball play. By launching good balls and crosses, Ateneo can mimick free kick situations without having the need to get one. Two of the last four they scored started with good crosses from the wings, signifying the need to sharpen this aspect better.
-Beware the offside trap
Ateneo have their skilled forwards and midfielders who can hold their own against the league’s toughest defenders, but struggle when subjected to offside traps. Their forwards need to find a way to cut into the box while avoiding getting caught offside. Timing is key as movement has to be patterned with the La Salle defenders.
-Keep eyes on Archers up front
The Archers have Nathan Alquiros, who has a knack for helping his teammates score in crunch time. They also have Christian Zubiri, Yoshiharu Koizumi, and Chuck Uy, who at the start of the season had minimal playing time but turned into fan favorites thanks to their knack for getting through the keeper in the crucial moments of the match. Uy, despite seeing limited minutes on the pitch, is La Salle’s leading scorer with five goals. Ateneo cannot let their guard down with these guys around.
Ateneo and La Salle’s rivalry is not just about the schools’ alumni and their history – this rivalry has always brought out the best in each other. Each team’s fierce competitiveness in all things sports have brought the game to new heights. Whatever the outcome might be on Sunday, we will surely be in for an exciting match.
[/nextpage] [nextpage Title = “FEU-UP”]
FEU-UP: Only one will return
In the recent history of the UAAP men’s football competitions, there were two schools who are always in the thick of things. And in UAAP Season 71, it figured to a classic showdown between the Fighting Maroons of University of the Philippines and the Tamaraws of Far Eastern University. In the end, it was UP who ended their drought by out-hustling the former defending champions FEU, with a goal from star striker Jose Andoni Santos. This was just the beginning of their battle.
It will be FEU and UP who will square off for the other finals slot in UAAP Season 77. Interestingly, UP has never missed the Finals since the Final Four format was introduced two seasons ago. It was a season filled with twists and turns as the teams tied at second place. With the twice-to-beat incentive still employed that time, UP defeated FEU in the playoff, 2-0, courtesy of Jinggoy Valmayor’s goals. He also scored in the semis proper, but was drowned by the five points FEU scored, to force a do-or-die game. Eventually, UP moved up to the finals in dramatic fashion only for them to lose twice to Ateneo via heartbreaking penalty shootouts. Now, some protagonists have already forsaken the UAAP pitch, while others remained and have grown over the course of two years. FEU are in blistering form since their last four games, and shaped up looking like the rampaging champion team of last year.
The last time the Tamaraws failed to bag a win this season, it was against the Maroons of Diliman who took away three points right at the end, courtesy of a familiar name: Valmayor. The ferocious striker has scored all of UP’s goals during the first time the team played this season to spearhead them into the colossal 3-1 triumph. Based on the head-to-head record, the Maroons are favored to advance to the finals, however, FEU will definitely refuse to go down without a fight. Having won five lopsided games in the second round, the defending champions will have to overcome one of the two teams also vying for a place in the finals this year. Another chapter will be added in this brewing rivalry between last season’s top two squads.
Season 77 Head to Head Record:
DF: Joshua Mulero
An intimidating figure in FEU’s backline, Joshua Mulero has what it takes to stifle UP’s offensive sequences. He possesses pace despite his buff frame, making him a likely candidate in dismantling UP’s offensive rhythm. He saw limited time in their first round meeting but was decent in the 3-3 stalemate. For Mulero to improve further would mean a lot for the Tamaraws, usually susceptible in conceding goals off quick counterattacks.
MF: Arnel Amita
The midfielder stepped up big time in the second round to sustain FEU’s rampant form. He was also instrumental in key wins against NU and Ateneo, racking up six of the nine goals his team scored in that stretch. He took over as a central midfielder in place of teammate Paolo Bugas, who had to miss time due to a knee injury. Now that Bugas has returned, the Amita-Bugas combination will heavily test UP’s midfield in the center.
MF: Val Jurao
FEU’s left winger is perhaps an underrated figure in FEU’s offense. A genuine playmaker, Jurao always strives to read through the defense and find ways to generate scoring opportunities. The Tamaraws have yet to play a game where they were blanked, showcasing how FEU has been attack-minded all throughout the season. Down the left, Jurao offers pace and precision in passing that will surely have defenders keep eyes on him. With a decent full back in Patxi Santos set to mark him, Jurao needs to be in his reliable form to contribute vastly in this match.
FW: Jhan Jhan Melliza
Eric Giganto has been FEU’s target man this season but when it comes to big games, another striker leads the way. Scorer of two goals of FEU against UP this season, Melliza is a man to watch out for in the rematch of last year’s finals. Now on his last year, the Green Archers United striker would have to remind their friends in State U how the title went to Morayta instead. The reigning best striker in the league has a killer finishing touch that seems to constantly work against UP. If he does not want Sunday to be his last game for FEU, he needs to make every chance count.
GK: Ace Villanueva
The reigning Best Goalkeeper in the league, Villanueva has the experience to play well in these kinds of games. He finished as the top goalie in the first round, but struggled late in the second round, having conceded three goals in the 3-3 draw to FEU, and conceding three more in the Maroons’ worst loss of the season, 0-3 to La Salle. Ace is backed by hardworking defenders, but against the team with the deadliest strikers in the league, he’ll need to keep his composure and bring his A-game. His experience in handling the goal-hungry Tamaraws may come into play this coming Sunday.
DF: Ian Clarino
In their 3-0 defeat to La Salle, Gonzales tagged Clarino as one of the potential future stars in the league. For him to reach that level, Clarino would need to polish his game by avoiding foolish mistakes, as his mentor has described. The young defender usually acts urgently to win the ball from opponents. He also has decent passing that initiates motion in UP’s attack. Moreover, he has the pace and power to put pressure on opposing forwards. His first Final Four match will be against his team’s most familiar foe as far as the number of previous matches between UP and FEU over the past three years are concerned. It will be an acid test for the rookie defender, who has done well enough to earn a regular starting place in UP’s lineup.
MF: Daniel Gadia
Gadia’s surname is synonymous to work rate and in this pivotal match, and the burly midfielder’s brand of play is a necessity. As the attacking midfielder, Gadia needs to do more of what he did in the first round match against the Tams, in order to help push for the win. That is, to be able to distribute well and know when to launch an attack that can keep the FEU defense guessing. Aside from possessing skills in technique, the third year player also provides leadership on the pitch, often reminding his teammates what to do in their games. If Gadia works his magic, UP will have a chance on the offensive in this game.
FW: Jinggoy Valmayor
Jinggoy Valmayor is the man FEU needs to be afraid of. He scored all three of UP’s goals in their 3-1 victory over FEU in the first round, had a 24th minute goal in the second round matchup and later netting the 93rd minute free kick goal that forced the Tams to settle for a 3-3 draw. He has five years of playing experience against the Tams under his belt coming into the semis and probably wants to hurt FEU one last time before he leaves the maroon and white. The UP squad will probably trust Valmayor to take most of their shots, and against FEU he’ll have to do whatever it took for him to get five previous goals against FEU.
FEU just loves to score. There have been no games where the Tamaraws were held scoreless. Add to that the 52 goals they pocketed in 14 games, making them the only team to norm above three goals per game. Everything they do on the field is clearly done with scoring as their end-result. They have rapid ball movement, which lets everyone on the midfield easily control the ball to top of the field, if not to score themselves. On the wing, they have Val Jurao, whose dangerous crosses offer his teammates in front of the goal the means to score however they choose. Midfielder Arnel Amita, who takes hold of any opportunity to score, has twelve markers to his name. Strikers Jhan Jhan Melliza and Eric Giganto are threats every time they get into the box. Even their defenders are concerned with feeding the offense. Joshua Mulero plunges himself into the midfield and gets himself in the position to directly redistribute. The Tamaraws’ penchant for counterattacks has led them to success, and pose a dangerous threat on the field.
UP boasts in having one of the most successful midfield units in the league. Their excellent passers, Daniel Gadia and Michael Simms, keep the Maroons’ passing routes open around the box. Replete with towering players, who have no trouble in tearing up the opposing defenders, the Maroons are scary to face in the penalty area. Meanwhile, their midfielders’ ability to send successful longballs into the box reveal the Maroons’ strategic flexibility. A lot of faith is also placed on fifth-year star Jinggoy Valmayor, the league’s second-leading scorer with 15 goals barely amounting to half of UP’s 32 goals. Valmayor can strike from anywhere on the field, and does massive damage during free kick penalties. Evidence of this would be from his free kick goal at injury time, against FEU in the second round. On defense, the Maroons have their wide defenders who are indispensable when bringing the ball up the wings.
Form guide and output trends:
|Form||Last 3 vs Top 5 Teams||Last 4 matches|
|Team||vs UP||vs Top 5 Teams||vs All Teams|
|Form||Last 3 vs Top 5 Teams||Last 4 matches|
|Team||vs FEU||vs Top 5 Teams||vs All Teams|
UP seem to play their best football against FEU. Net goals against FEU have been above-season average and against top five teams, making this fixture an exciting and productive affair. In the conclusion of the second round of FEU-UP, UP Coach, Anto Gonzales voiced out satisfaction with the team’s performance. After that came low-key wins mostly due to inferior opponents’ lapses, followed by two alarming results to cap off a mediocre second round. Coincidentally, FEU’s form spiked tremendously after the 3-3 draw. In their last four matches, FEU only conceded once and have gone on to find the net 20 times. At the same time, the Tams have yet to concede a goal in their last 343 minutes of play, with only DLSU possessing a longer time. Although the Tamaraws looked underwhelming in the first round, they surged from fourth to second by amassing 17 of the possible 21 points. It could have been a perfect 21 had it not been for late equalizers by DLSU’s Chuck Uy and UP’s Jinggoy Valmayor.
Both teams tend to find their goals early, as seen in their most recent matchups. UP’s defense against top teams has been slightly better than FEU’s in the final 30 minutes of action, but FEU managed to find the net more in the same period. Despite that aggressiveness late in the game, the Tamaraws were muted by the Maroons in the latter stages of the last two encounters. Conversely, it is UP who dealt damage in that stretch. They scored the third at that time via a penalty kick to pad a precarious lead to assure the win in the first round, while they also netted late to deny FEU a win in the second round battle. Both goals came from set pieces and was from the boot of Valmayor, whose contributions have already torched the Tamaraws twice. If there is something FEU can take away from that, it is the fact that they have been more disciplined defensively against their opponents. What may dampen that impressive record is the inferior quality of players those teams have up front in comparison to UP’s.
Numbers in form and recent outings suggest two different things and one-goal leads are not exactly safe for these teams who experienced taking the advantage and losing it in their games against each other in Season 77. If form and goals rate were to be heeded, FEU are odds-on favorites to reach the finals having showcased effective football in their last seven games. Nonetheless, UP look to find their best form whenever they see green and gold. It appears that the beaten finalists of last season have springs on their steps in battling FEU, as their work rate and productivity on both ends have manifested. It could be argued that UP were lucky to take points against the Tamaraws, who have labored just as hard although perhaps not as wise as the Maroons in their matches. The beauty in football is that these numbers offer you probability only to aid judgement. It has always been difficult to call matches, particularly when they feature high-quality teams and when there is much at stake between them.
Keys for FEU
Jinggoy Valmayor is an all-time threat on the pitch and has come to make amends after missing the Season 76 Finals where he served a two-game suspension. FEU appear to be his favorite opponents to score against, having claimed 33% (5 of 15) of his goals this season against the Tams. His claim to fame may be his goal-scoring ability, but he is just as adept in setting up his teammates and can facilitate the offense around the box. FEU simply cannot let Valmayor have it easy.
-Maximize speed against disciplined but vulnerable UP defense
The hardworking UP defenders show the grit needed in defending the box, but have struggled in marking the Tams’ lightning-quick forwards in their previous matchups. The Tams need to exploit every single hole they see in the UP defense and trust their forwards to rebuke the Tams’ onslaught inside the box.
Lately, the Maroons’ defense has not been in top form. If they go in early, the Tams might just be too much on the attack against what was the season’s best defense in the first round. Regardless of UP’s defensive slump, FEU must map a solid route that can maneuver them past the opponents’ barrier and at the same time, attain passing opportunities.
-Increase efficiency in finishing
In their games against UP, the Tamaraws were not starved of chances to score. They had a lot of it to be honest but they seem to lack the killer instinct against the Maroons this year. Making every opportunity count will at least make their opponents fatigued and may eventually lead to better openings to score freely.
-Do better in defending counterattacks
As much as FEU likes to move forward and score tons, they are also vulnerable in giving away goals from quick attacking movements against the run of play. Most of the goals they conceded against the top five teams have come from such situations, meaning that adjustments in this area look a must for the Tamaraws to keep UP at bay.
Keys for UP
-Play as a team: Communication is key.
There are eleven men on the field for UP and not one can of them can afford to screw up too much. The key here is communication, and the Maroons must establish that they’re all in on the game plan. The defenders and the goalie need to make sure everyone knows which areas in the box need marking. The midfield and the wingers must prepare to anticipate the ball and create passing routes for their teammates.
The strikers need to stay alert to receive or redirect crosses, manage through passes, and find holes in the enemy’s defense. UP needs to play as one solid unit, with eyes not just on the ball but also on the other men in the maroon and white. UP Coach Anto Gonzales identified the lack of teamwork in their last matches, so perhaps facing their most familiar foes in FEU prompts everyone to gather themselves together.
-Improve wing play
The Maroons must assert their presence both in midfield and in the wings. UP is a team replete with brilliant passers, and against FEU they may find success dominating the wings. The Maroons need as many scoring options as they can, and an all-out offensive coursed through the wing may be what they need to score against the feisty Tams. This however entails finding a way to control the flow of the ball and shutting down the Tams’ overwhelming counterattack. Simms, Monfort, Rafanan, Santos, Yatco, and Condat are usual figures in the Maroons’ flanks. Any of them selected to partake in Sunday’s match will have to play skillfully to impose themselves against FEU.
-Stay alert in fending off FEU’s potent strike force
FEU is the best scoring team of the league. They have Jhan Jhan Melliza, a two-time leading scorer and Eric Giganto, this year’s leading scorer candidate. They have Arnel Amita, who notched twelve goals, and Val Jurao, who sends some of the scariest crosses in the league. Add to that Audie Menzi and Nicolas Ferrer who offer pace and neat ball-handling skills that can bother any defense. They are never safe with these players doing well on the field. The UP defenders need to give their all in marking the FEU attackers. They need to quickly maneuver the ball at every given minute, dominate the flanks, leave no one open to receive crosses from the wing, and force opposing strikers to make clumsy passes and keep them from even getting near the goal. It’s going to be a difficult 90 minutes, but it’s the only way they can get through this alive.
-Make everyone a threat
The Maroons are not a one-man team as their players are cooperative despite Valmayor’s prominence in this match. As mentioned earlier, UP is blessed with players like Gadia and Simms who are good in creating spaces with their well-timed passing. They also have Carlos Monfort, Ryan Fermin, Vince Aguilar, and Patxi Santos who can challenge FEU. Even Feb Baya and Ian Clarino, center backs by trade, have finishing touches that led to a goal each this season. Not everyone can move forward altogether but if everyone can take turns and move with flamboyant coordination, the Tamaraws will have a tough time moving up to the top of the pitch.
Any encounter between the Maroons and Tamaraws on the pitch now reeks of passion and excellence. That is what makes watching every match into an exciting spectacle. And Sunday is no exception. As much as each team differs with their unique brand of skillsets, we conclude with the proverbial statement, “It is not over ’till the fat lady sings”. In this case, until the referee blows the final whistle. This is a battle between two proud football squads, both recent champions, and will give their all in this matchup. Only one will survive to go on to the Finals. Who is hungry for more?