UNCERTAIN of making it to the Final Four a week ago, Ateneo is now a win away from regaining the UAAP Season 78 men's football championship.
Carlo Liay and goalkeeper JP Oracion were the men of the match as the Blue Eagles overcame De La Salle in the penalty shootout, 5-4, after a 1-1 standoff in 120 minutes of play in their Final Four matchup Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Liay, a former Rookie of the Year winner, gave Ateneo the lead, 5-4, and Oracion, a substitute late in extra time, had a brilliant save on Jose Montelibano, which sent their fierce rivals Green Archers packing.
Up next for Ateneo is the University of the Philippines, who blanked University of Santo Tomas, 3-0, in the other semis pairing, in the one-game final at 3 p.m. on Thursday at the Malate venue.
It will be the first Finals meeting between the two Katipunan rivals since 2012-13 season, when the Eagles swept the Fighting Maroons in two games, both decided via penalties.
“UP is organized in defending and attacking. We need to play our best on Thursday,” said coach JP Merida, who was a part of the Ateneo squad that won a three-peat from 2004-06.
The Eagles are gunning for their seventh title, while the Maroons are seeking their 17th championship, but their first since 2011-12 season.
A victory will be very sweet for Ateneo, which a week ago was on the ropes and was only able to make it to the semifinals after UP ousted and dethroned Far Eastern University on the final elimination matchday.
For De La Salle, coach Hans Smit will wait another year to end a title drought that's lasted almost two decades.
The Maroons, meanwhile, are eyeing a championship double as their women’s team play the Lady Archers in the winner-take-all finale – the last sport to be played for Season 78 – also on Thursday.