Andes-inspired FEU dethrones UP to earn shot at championship
By Brian Tamayao
How sweet must it feel for the FEU Tamaraws, who emerged 2-1 winners over the UP Fighting Maroons largely due to Rico Andes’ heroics. The sophomore stood out by scoring all of FEU’s goals to oust last year’s winners and redeem his team a slot in the Season 79 UAAP men’s football final.
This time last year, the Tamaraws were already out of contention as they struggled in Season 78. They finished fifth, missing out on the Final Four wherein their opponents today emerged on top. Now, they gloriously bounced back as they eliminated one of their fiercest rivals en route to the last dance. The latest installment in the storied rivalry, however, wasn’t a straightforward success for the Tamaraws.
Initially, it was the Maroons who settled into the game faster. Anto Gonzales’ wards were dictating the pace of the game while Vince Santos’ charges looked content to let their foes to do so with the aim of catching their defense off guard in counter attacks. The former Blue Eagle turned FEU coach described it as a cautious approach with UP’s desire for possession slightly pitting then on top.
Within the first 10 minutes, UP’s top sophomores JB Borlongan and Kintaro Miyagi already threatened the FEU defense wasn’t truly bothered by the first UP attacking barrage.
Then in the 18th minute mark, UP produced the game’s first shot on goal. With plenty of choices to send the cross to, winger Kyle Magdato opted to pick out Miyagi who was in a good position to strike. Last year’s finals hero misfired but the ball ricocheted towards Borlongan who did well to hit the loose ball. Saving FEU in that instance was Audie Menzi who found himself in the line of fire to send the ball out for a corner.
The following set piece was just as good in producing the first goal of the game as Ian Clarino met the delivery from the corner. The center back, nonetheless, was not able to provide a clean touch to the ball which went out for a goal kick.
Just when the Maroons were building momentum, the team in gold and green suddenly pounced on their high line. Against the run of play, FEU surged forward to win a corner in the 22nd minute. The Tamaraws made the most of the rare opportunity as a scramble in the box led to a smart Andes header which looped above every UP player before hitting the back of the net.
The Tamaraws’ advantage did not last long after a calamitous error by goalkeeper RJ Joyel allowed Kintaro Miyagi to tap the ball in from around three yards out almost exactly a minute later. JB Borlongan started the move as the midfielder maneuvered past the FEU defense before forcing the Tamaraw keeper into action. Joyel initially got his hands on the ball but unfortunately spilled it in front of Miyagi who made him pay and to nab the equalizer for the Fighting Maroons.
Two quick goals split between the teams were perhaps what the game needed. It added confidence to both teams’ attacks, both of which are potent enough to make it a shootout throughout 90 minutes. The Tamaraws looked a better team after the exchange of goals as they began to play in a style many are familiar with. Andes was becoming a nuisance to the UP defense and perhaps could have done better when he sent his header wide with six minutes still left in the first half.
Meanwhile, UP continued to find ways in testing the FEU defense. Nevertheless, they seemed to have been content in generating shots from distance rather than breaking down their opponents. Daniel Gadia and Roland Saavedra came up with the efforts approaching halftime, both of which were from at least 20 yards and dealt with comfortably by Joyel.
Come the second half, FEU looked more aggressive on the attack. They had more players surging forward than in the first half when in one instance, Andes launched a decent cross into the box without any takers.
Paolo Bugas, a two-time champion with FEU, lurked on the edge of the UP box before taking a shot on target three minutes into the second half. While Ace Villanueva smothered the attempt, it served as a sign of a momentum shift in the game.
The Maroons still had their fair share of the ball but in terms of quality, the Tamaraws were looking to be the more likely team to take the lead. Their increasing confidence was underlined when the next best chance to get the breakthrough came through Val Jurao. The FEU captain had enough room to consider shooting from around 25 yards, but didn’t have the sharpest of hits as the ball went off target.
The miss didn’t bother the Tamaraws though as they reaped their rewards just a minute later. Mark Arranguez started the play on the right wing, finding Nicolas Ferrer who then cleverly teed up Andes. For the second time in the game, the sophomore Tamaraw netted. This time, the forward smashed the ball past Villanueva after winning the footrace for the ball.
Unlike in his first goal, there was no immediate response from the defending champions. Yet, they still had more than 30 minutes left to find an equalizer and even more.
Usual suspects Gadia, Borlongan, and Miyagi spearheaded the attack. Amidst the search, Gonzales gradually rotated his squad with the hope of someone emerging to change the game’s complexion to their liking. Substitute Rvin Resuma nearly vindicated what they were looking for as his 71st minute strike was just deflected out for a corner.
UP tried their best to force extra time at the very least and were given the license to do so by FEU, who looked content in preserving their lead rather than taking the risk in pursuit for a back-breaking third goal.
There were bound to be plenty of chances for UP to extend their season and when Gadia nicely set up Christian Lapas, another substitute, in second half added time, it looked like they will level the score for the second time. Yet it was not meant to be after Lapas was denied from close range, the closest UP managed to produce. Not long after, referee Oliver Moreno blew the final whistle prompting celebrations of the FEU
Speaking after the match, Santos heaped praise on his players after they endured a challenging affair against one of the favorites to win the crown this season. “UP are a very well-drilled side, very organized so to break them down you have to do something special. They like to possess the ball so we had to disrupt their possession and I think we succeeded,” he said, adding that they aimed to penetrate from the back and go for second balls to neutralize UP’s reputable midfield strength.
As for looks on goal, the newly-minted mentor at the start of the season cited the value of quality finishing in today’s game. “There were a few shots but important is we are able to confer unlike in the previous games leading up to this,” Santos elaborated.
There will be a new champion on Sunday and it will be between two powerhouses in UAAP football. The last champions aside from UP, FEU and Ateneo will meet at 3PM at the Rizal Memorial Stadium to decide who takes home the bacon in the 79th season of UAAP men’s football.