A Jayra Rocha goal in the 66th minute made sure that the Ateneo De Manila University’s unbeaten streak in men’s football remained intact, as they survived their eighth game of the season without a loss by scraping a 1-1 draw against the defending champions and rivals University of the Philippines, Sunday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The result meant that the league-leading Ateneo increased the gap between them and the second-placed Far Eastern University to two points, by amassing their 20th point of the season. As for UP, they had to settle for their third draw of their campaign, and in the process still trail Ateneo by five points with 15, though good enough for third place in the table.
The game was intense from the opening minute, with neither team wanting to give the other the edge early on. Though both teams had their fair share of the ball, the champions looked more dangerous in possession, as skipper Daniel Gadia showed in the first 10 minutes. Twice did the veteran UP veteran test the mettle of Ateneo goalkeeper AJ Arcilla, who has impressively kept five clean sheets out of his first seven UAAP games.
The midfielder’s initial effort, which came five minutes into the game, was caught by the freshman keeper, while the next one two minutes later went wide.
Supporting Gadia were wingers JB Borlongan and Kyle Magdato, who, together with striker Miyagi up front, formed a formidable attacking quartet that had the Ateneo defense on their toes.
When it was not Gadia who was bothering the Blue Eagles, it was either Borlongan or Magdato who caused the danger, and the former managed to test Arcilla again in the 23rd minute. His shot was on target but was straight to the Ateneo keeper to collect. Two minutes afterwards, Gadia had another go on goal, which the rookie did well to stop.
Down the other side of the pitch, Ateneo struggled to connect with their passing and as a result, rarely forced UP goalkeeper Ace Villanueva to the action. Their best chance, when the score was still level, came through a Jarvey Gayoso free kick that was well blocked by the UP wall, 21 minutes into the game.
The momentum, like in their first round encounter, was with UP, and they were determined to make it count this time around. And via a good attacking sequence, they were able to break the deadlock in the 32nd minute.
Attracting the defense, Gadia sent a smart ball to Magdato, who had enough room to pick his spot against the onrushing Arcilla. The sophomore scuffed his shot wide but had batchmate Miyagi to thank, as he chased the wayward ball to guide it into the net.
The score stood at 1-0 come halftime, but not without another chance for UP to pad the lead. The Blue Eagles had to rely on Arcilla, who denied Gadia once more five minutes before the break, to keep the margin at one.
At the restart, Ateneo signaled their intent to come back by holding their opponents in the opening minutes. Nevertheless, they couldn’t create a decent chance put the UP defense to work.
Instead, it was the Fighting Maroons who attempted to cushion their slender lead. On a set piece play, Ian Clarino sent a cheeky back heel effort wide to the right 57 minutes in. Then a few moments later, the Fighting Maroons were left distraught by a poor call that went against them.
Gadia and Miyagi connected well to unlock the Ateneo defense and had a good breakaway looming when the linesman incorrectly raised the flag for an offside infraction. The referee may have overruled his colleague on the decision, but it irked the UP players, coaching staff, and fans, as it allowed the Blue Eagles to set themselves up on defense.
Sensing the growing frustration of their foes, Ateneo gradually got themselves back in the game. Moments after shuffling his deck, Coach JP Merida and his team reaped the rewards, as Ateneo scored the goal everyone from the blue side of Katipunan were looking for.
Before the goal, substitute Rupert Baña did well to set up Julian Roxas inside the box. The Ateneo midfielder then won a corner by forcing a save from Villanueva. With a rare chance to threaten UP, the Blue Eagles made it count.
Taken by Gayoso, the corner delivery was met by defender Rocha, who leaped above everyone else to nod the ball into the back of the net. It warranted a huge roar from the Ateneo fans, who prior to that moment had been contemplating what could be their team’s first defeat of the season.
There was still plenty of time for either team to take all three points, and even if Ateneo had scored more recently, UP remained the more dangerous team. Almost instantly, Miyagi had the opportunity to give his team the lead again, but his header from close range was well parried by Arcilla.
The Ateneo keeper had a little bit of luck also, as a 73rd minute incident — which had the ball graze Arcilla’s hand before bouncing off the post and out — was then slotted back in, causing confusion over what took place. The linesman then raised his flag for offside, something that infuriated UP Coach Anto Gonzales, who offered choice words to the officials.
“F—— officiating. You can quote me on that. This is the first time in I’m gonna complain about officiating. Offside? Paano naging offside may tao sila [Ateneo] sa poste… the officiating did not do justice to us,” he argued.
Approaching full time, UP came closest to taking all the spoils when Miyagi squandered a glorious chance wide. As for Ateneo, a good attacking sequence fizzled out when Gayoso was ruled offside five minutes before the end.
At the end of the day, Ateneo head coach John Paul Merida was the happier of the two coaches, as he expressed satisfaction with the way the boys handled a difficult game.
“Kaysa matapos ‘yung game na hindi kami nag-earn ng point, for me against UP, happy na ako sa result. Ang maganda rin dito nag-step up talaga sila… they worked together,” the winning coach of Season 75 uttered.
If there was something Merida didn’t appreciate from his players in their first game of the second round, it was the seeming lack of character to complete the turnaround.
“After we scored, nandoon na ‘yung mindset nila na to hold na sa our half, to defend na, to finish this game for a draw. We scored so nandoon na ‘yung momentum [to win],” he figured.
Gonzales, meanwhile, had a similar statement to the one he gave in their loss to Ateneo earlier this season. Unfortunately for him this time, his players were unable to put the game beyond reach.
“I thought we did very well in the first half. All the objectives were checked. Second half, compared to our last game with Ateneo, we played better. Medyo nag open up ‘yung game and we had some players na ‘di makatapos,” he summed up.
Both teams will see action for the ninth time next weekend, with fixtures yet to be determined.