Winless in their last three games, the Far Eastern University Tamaraws banked on Audie Menzi’s sublime free kick to secure a 2-1 win against the National University Bulldogs, who in the process saw their three-game winning streak come to an end as well, Sunday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
In doing so, the second-placed Tamaraws move to just a point behind the Ateneo de Mania University Blue Eagles, with 18 points in the bag. The loss for NU, on the other hand, meant that they stay in fourth with 10 points.
It was a fairly even battle in the opening stages of the game. National U had more serious efforts on goal than FEU, who started the game with more of the ball but less penetration past the organized Bulldogs’ defense.
As early as the second minute, rookie Jayson Socrates forced FEU keeper RJ Joyel to save his shot from outside the box. Then in the ninth minute, National U thought they had taken the lead when captain Patrick Valenzuela bundled the ball into the net. But his effort was cancelled by the officials, who adjudged one of the Bulldog player as having been offside in the build up.
The early National U counter attacking barrage seemed to have galvanized the Tamaraws, who otherwise dominated possession. After the disallowed goal, FEU kept possession inside their opponents half, eager to claim the first goal of the game.
In the 14th minute, Alex Rayos got what his team had been looking for as he opened the scoring for the Tamaraws in style, flicking the ball over his marker before smashing it towards the far side past National U goalkeeper Chris Perocho.
Not willing to let their three-game winning run end without a fight, the Bulldogs willed themselves back in the game and were rewarded eight minutes later. Valenzuela won a free kick just outside the box, which was taken by Lawrence Colina. The midfielder made the most of the set piece opportunity by placing his shot on the top corner.
Colina’s goal set up a frantic first half wherein both teams appeared to have thrown caution into the wind. For FEU, Rico Andes and Val Jurao looked the most threatening, as their pursuits to break the deadlock anew had Perocho on their toes. On the other hand, a Jericho Dagsa free kick almost worked wonders for National U, who nearly benefited from Joyel’s sloppy ball handling. Fortunately for the Pampanga native, he did enough to punch the ball out of danger.
Halftime soon came with nothing to separate the two teams, setting up an interesting second half for the partisan fans and neutrals alike.
Playing with more possession, as is their norm, FEU did not take long to break the deadlock in the second half as the Tamaraws went in front again 53 minutes in. Awarded a free kick from 30 yards out, FEU knew who to call.
Up stepped the younger Audie Menzi, who had already scored from a set piece just a week ago against the University of the East. The boy from Benguet did not disappoint, as he whipped a magnificent effort to give his team their second lead in the game.
Unlike in the first half, when National U managed to answer almost immediately, the Bulldogs were forced to defend for much of the second half. If there was a team that looked more dangerous midway through the second half, it was FEU, who didn’t look too satisfied with a one-goal lead.
Their level of determination did not meet the quality of the attacks, however, as most of their efforts fizzled out. Thankfully, most of National U’s clearances enabled FEU to sustain pressure.
Yet in the times when the Bulldogs managed to breach the FEU back four, Coach Mari Aberasturi’s boys struggled to piece together successive passes to make it 2-2. Their best crack to tie the score came in the 74th minute through Valenzuela. The captain was teed up nicely by Colina before deciding to cheekily shoot past Joyel, who made a routine save.
With an end-to-end battle in the latter stages, FEU could have shut the door on a National U comeback had defender Ross Lawagan failed to clear off the line Andes’ header in the 79th minute. Still at 2-1, the Bulldogs nearly punished the Tamaraws in added time. Unfortunately, Alivio was too late in meeting Colina’s free kick that went across the face of the goal.
Though Rayos almost wrapped the game up, with a subsequent counter attack seeing him with space to shoot past Perocho, the forward and his team had to be content with a single-goal win as he scuffed the last-minute, icing-on-the-cake effort wide.
In the post-game interview, FEU Coach Vince Santos offered mixed reactions about his team’s performance. On one hand, the new mastermind for the green and gold expressed satisfaction with his team is professing this season.
“I think our movement is better. As I’ve been telling the team, what’s important is [after] every game, we have a better understanding of our system and I feel like we are getting better,” Santos noted.
Meanwhile, he stressed the need to convert more chances into goals. The Tamaraws were more threatening in the second half, but with only a single goal that came from a set piece to show, Santos is asking for improvement.
“We have to score more goals. It’s not enough to have good movement, to have possession, to make penetration. If we don’t score, it’s useless,” the former Ateneo Blue Eagle elaborated.
Both teams are certain to see action next weekend, with games yet to be confirmed by league officials.