The University of the Philippines Men’s Football Team is a picture of consistency when it comes to Final Four appearances.
On a hot Sunday morning, the Fighting Maroons plucked two late goals in succession, to power past a gritty National University Bulldogs squad to seal their eighth consecutive postseason stint at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Bulldogs actually got hold of the first half, putting the league-leaders on the back foot. Patrick Valenzuela and the rest of the NU forwards were busy receiving balls from midfield, forcing UP keeper Harel Dayan to timely saves.
With limited opportunities due to their uncharacteristic tentativeness, the Fighting Maroons got their closest chance to break the deadlock at the 32nd minute.
UP won a corner kick, which after accidentally hitting a dangling arm of an NU defender, turned to a penalty awarded. Nonetheless, Christian Lapas’ shot went straight to the mitts of Chris Perecho.
After the break, the Bulldogs resumed their fighting form, but the free kick given to them two minutes from restart was for nought. That turned out to be UP’s cue to make something happen.
Incessant pressure from the Fighting Maroons ensued as Borlongan conceived two chances to put his squad on board. First, his volley at the 55th minute grazed over the crossbar, before another shot at the 79th minute went few inches wide.
UP head coach Anto Gonzales kept on pushing his boys in that span of time. “I was affirming what they’re doing, because they are doing well; to keep it up and the goals, [they] will come.”
And came they did.
That relentless attack finally paid off with just four minutes left in regulation. Borlongan zigzagged his way through the defense and fired a looper that bounced off the top netting and in, finally giving the Maroons the go-ahead goal.
His fellow scoring machine Kintaro Miyagi would not be denied a few seconds later, as Daniel Saavedra intercepted the ball off the restart and found his fellow third-year player almost free from defenders. Miyagi beat the offside trap and dribbled the ball before sending it to the back of the net.
The final whistle was blown soon afterwards, sealing another win for the unscathed men from Diliman.
Coach Gonzales admitted that the side played very poorly in the first half. “The mental approach going into the game. I don’t think they were at the right frame of mind. They were lax. Effort-wise, NU got the better of us,” he shared.
Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, it was his players who made the adjustments themselves; to the seasoned mentor give credit.
Gonzales said, “I think the boys showed good character naman, adjusting. It started with simple things: winning the ball back, getting to good positions. Simple things pero ‘yun talaga ‘yung key.”
Both teams play their next game on Thursday at the Far Eastern University-Diliman Field as the Fighting Maroons take on the De La Salle University Green Archers at 4pm. Earlier that day at 2pm, the Bulldogs face the UE Red Warriors.
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