DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines -- "You are now the best in the Philippines."
A teary-eyed MIMAROPA coach Joseph Malaya ran into the middle of the field to hug his goal keeper after he saved the penalty of a Central Visayas player in what could be the biggest surprise in this year's Palarong Pambansa.
Joshua Dalida, the hero for MIMAROPA in the gold medal match of secondary football, cried in his coach's arms after he stopped Gylan Ventulero's shot to complete their fairy tale run in the biggest sporting event in the country.
"I had no idea where the ball was going. I just followed my gut and took to my left. When it hit my hand, I knew we finally had it," the Romblon-native told Rappler.
MIMAROPA could have taken the win much earlier as substitute striker Britz Manzo pounced on a loose ball inside the box to drill the first goal of the game.
"I am tired from all my games so I came on as a substitute. But when I stepped on the field, I wanted to score right away," Manzo, who had to play through pain in their previous game due to injury, said.
With the MIMAROPA crowd already celebrating, Cebu's Karlo Villamor pulled one back for Central Visayas less than 2 minutes left in the game to force a nerve-wracking shootout.
"It was painful. Very painful," Malaya shared about the late goal his boys conceded. "They relaxed after they scored. That should have not happened."
Not treated as serious contenders
Entering the tournament as underdogs, MIMAROPA came from under the radar to go perfect in the eliminations en route to a semifinals date with SOCCSKSARGEN Friday afternoon.
"Nobody treated us as serious contenders but at the end of the day, we won the gold," quipped Malaya.
In a fixture tagged as the battle of the dark horses, MIMAROPA took the lead early as Manzo opened the books after he found the net in the 33rd minute.
"Coach and our officials really helped us all the way. They left their families in the province just to be here. I just want to return the favor," Manzo said.
Cotabato Region however, caught Mimaropa's defense sleeping to score off a counter and restore parity midway in the second half.
"It's normal. It's common for young players to make such mistakes," MIMAROPA's coach said.
Fortunately for Malaya, his boys pulled through in the penalties, sending SOCCSKSARGEN home, 4-3.
Replay of semis match
Their finals match against last year's finalists Central Visayas was a replay of their yesterday's game.
MIMAROPA, whose core comes from Romblon, controlled the first half with nifty passes and accurate crosses. They were however, unable to open the scoring before the half time whistle.
It was a balanced second half as both teams were able to etch some chances but it remained a goal-less affair until Manzo, who came in 10 minutes earlier, scored the opener.
MIMAROPA was already in a celebratory mood as the clock melted but Central Visayas was able to pull off a stunner, with just 2 minutes remaining when Karlo Villamor found an open goal to tap in the equalizer.
With the penalties knotted at 4-all, Dalida shone once more for Mimaropa as he went to his left and stopped Ventulero's shot. The crowd then exploded as Mimaropa captures its first crown in Palaro in recent years.
"We are super happy. This is the first time we won a major title. This is extra sweet," a visibly happy Malaya exclaimed amidst the victory celebration.
For MIMAROPA, fairy tale runs do come true. - Rappler.com