The match of the second-half teams spun two very different narratives. On one side of the story was a team that hadn’t been given the spotlight, but now owns the headlines. On the other hand was a team in danger of wasting their season.
Once more, victory against another member of last’s season’s Final Four should demonstrate that the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers shouldn’t be treated as underdogs. Perhaps they are title contenders now? The Growling Tigers defeated the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, 2-1, in the UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament.
AJ Pasion (47′) and Darwin Busmion (61′) scored the goals that clinched the match for the Growling Tigers. Mikko Mabanag pulled one back for the Blue Eagles (90+1), but it was too little to late.
Both teams didn’t have a stellar first half. Ateneo had most of the possession, but it was UST that threatened more. Pasion sent an early warning to the Blue Eagles’ defense when his shot hit the side netting. Karl Bronda and Jayson Rafol had their attempts, but both went over the Ateneo goal.
While the Blue Eagles tried to create chances from open play, they lacked the final ball to test Growling Tigers goalkeeper Zaldy Abraham. Mabanag had a free kick but it hit the UST wall, and Abraham held them at bay. It finished scoreless at the half, which was fair for both teams.
As expected, both teams upped their game in the second half. It was UST, though, who woke up earlier. Just two minutes into the second half, rookie Pasion maintained his fine form and fooled Ateneo’s center-backs to get a shot on goal. He twisted, turned, and slotted home a fine finish to give UST the lead at the 47th minute.
Blood dripped from the Blue Eagles, and the Growling Tigers were eager to go for the kill. They did so in the 61st minute when a defensive error allowed Busmion to tap the ball into the net from a corner. The UST camp was ecstatic with the goal, as it virtually assured the team of three points. Ateneo, however, didn’t allow their heads to drop and pushed on for goals.
Blue Eagles coach JP Merida brought on the likes of Javier Ocampo Gayoso and Lui Clavano to unsettle the Growling Tigers’ defense. Ocampo Gayoso had a shot towards the Growling Tigers’ goal but Abraham was on hand to easily catch it. The keeper later denied Ocampo Gayoso and Mabanag in what became a recurring theme in the match, Ateneo pushed for the goals, while UST gladly sat back.
Even down 0-2, the Blue Eagles refused to give up, but Mabanag’s two successive attempts went over the UST goal. If there was one player, however, who should have scored for Ateneo, it definitely was Julian Roxas. The midfielder should have scored with at least one of his two headers, but both were misdirected over the UST goal.
The Blue Eagles finally got the goal they deserved during the first minute of stoppage time. They were awarded a penalty in the 90th minute of the match when the referee deemed that Clavano was fouled in the UST box. Mabanag stepped up to convert the penalty. Ateneo, then, pushed for a last-minute equalizer, but it was a case of too little too late.
UST held on for their fifth win this season and are still undefeated in six games. If everything is going well for UST, the same can’t be said for Ateneo. This makes Ateneo’s fourth loss this season, and the Blue Eagles might now be forced to rely on other results in order to make the Final Four.
For UST coach Marjo Allado, it was all about his players’ self-motivation. “Well yung gusto kasi ng players humabol sa La Salle eh kasi La Salle ay may 16 points eh. Kaninang first half, last five minutes of the first half, disorganized kami. Pinepress kami ng Ateneo but during the halftime yung reminder is kailangan sa second half mag step-up tayo eh. Better naka goal si (Pasion). Early goal. So yun medyo tumaas yung confidence ng mga players. I have to congratulate my players na sobrang kahit sabihin mong may injury na yun iba pero stand up and don’t give up. Puso ang nagdadala sa kanila.”
The result leaves the Growling Tigers in second place with 14 points, while the Blue Eagles stay in sixth place with 6 points.
Both teams’ next games will be held at the Moro Lorenzo Field in Ateneo. The Blue Eagles have a 9:00AM game vs the University of the East Red Warriors, while the Growling Tigers are up against the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.