The Bleachers King: The hard way for UP

Posted at 02/18/2013 5:59 PM

UP stuns FEU with a late comeback to barge into the UAAP football finals for the third straight year

Before the start of this semifinals series, I told the people at the UAAP Commissioner’s table that Far Eastern University (FEU) would win the first game but University of the Philippines (UP) would sneak back into the finals.

When I see the FEU Tamaraws and this particular team -- minus multi-talented Dexter Chio and striker Jon Melliza -- I think back to when they were trying to break through in the juniors ranks. In their first year, Ateneo often blew them out and La Salle as they tried to learn how to play alongside each other, much less get used to Manila football. In their second year in high school, they made the finals but lost to Ateneo that had Mikko Mabanag and many others in the current squad. By the time they were seniors, they defeated Ateneo for the juniors crown.

Watching this part of that batch move up to the seniors last season, they immediately made FEU competitive. Then the next batch moved up and that catapulted them to contender status.

Somehow, all season long, as frightening as they could be on offense, there were still some lapses. Of course, college football isn’t the same as junior ball. The Tamaraws had to play bigger and more talented squads than what they faced in the high school division.

It’s small consolation for the FEU Tamaraws to say their future is bright but there really is no other way to say it than, they’ll have to learn from this stunning extra-period 2-1 loss to UP in a game they dominated.

It is also safe to say that UP learned a thing or two and beat the Tamaraws with a FEU-esque type of move.

From Daniel Gadia to Jinggoy Valmayor to a cutting Gabe Mendoza. In the Fighting Maroons’ one and only good run inside the FEU box, the two-time defending champions scored off three passes late in the second period of extra time and held on for a 2-1 win.

FEU dominated possession for the first 90 minutes and the first 15 minutes of the extra period. This despite losing defender Eric Chavez to two yellow cards in the first extension period. If anything, that is testament to FEU’s talent while UP didn’t play too well. Sure UP got their runs but they made the most of their few opportunities, while FEU had lots of chances but only scored once.

Just to give you an idea, in the first few minutes of the match, the entire field team of UP including striker Jinggoy Valmayor who more often than not plants himself up front and waits for the long balls to come his way, stayed behind their defensive half.

When FEU couldn’t make any headway because of the strong defending position, only then did Valmayor move up. As they did in their last game, a 5-1 win, FEU kept four players surrounding Valmayor. While it hurt FEU’s attack as they didn’t have enough players to support their forward position, they soon adjusted – a mere tinkering in the ball movement and working those triangles.

And then they began to threaten. That culminated in a goal in the 22nd minute by Melliza off a sublime throughball by midfielder Paolo Bugas that left the FEU striker in a one-on-one position with UP keeper Ace Villanueva.

UP noticed a hole on the right flank. In the 60th minute, Albert Yatco dropped a long ball behind FEU’s defensive line that went over the heads of the Tamaraws' smaller defenders. Tams keeper Michael Menzi, however, was up to the task as he denied two Maroons from collaring the ball.

But UP liked what they saw. Four minutes later, they attempted another run up that side with Yatco making that pass and run up the right. They probed deep and picked up a free kick that Valmayor fired low from some 30 yards out. Buyboy Fernandez, unmarked and unchallenged, headed in the ball for the equalizer and UP received a massive dose of life.

FEU, however, still looked good as they moved up and down the field with relative ease as Arnel Amita and Bugas ruled the midfield. That is until the 19th minute of the extra period when Valmayor found Mendoza for the game winner.

At the half of regulation, UP head coach Anto Gonzales bawled out Valmayor for his seemingly disinterested play. Two games ago, he got on rookie Carlos Monfort’s case.

“Maglaro ka ng maayos,” he screamed at the frosh.

One year ago (Season 74) also against FEU, Valmayor (and then teammate Ayi Aryee) got on Mendoza rather harshly during the game, prompting Gonzales to rush to his player’s defense. Mendoza then led UP during the UniGames last year, while Valmayor and Fernandez were training with the Azkals. Come the UAAP, the lack of chemistry hurt UP, hence, Mendoza looking lost on the field with his teammates from the national team and Aryee who was then playing with Global in the UFL.

In the game-winning goal, it was Monfort who made the pass up the right side to Gadia that allowed the run. Now it’s almost complete as Mendoza seems to have found his groove with the Maroons.

As it is, the two teams with the most titles in the last 10 years will be playing one another for the Season 75 championship – Ateneo and UP.

Ateneo, three-peat winners from 2004-06, are up against UP, titlists in 2009, 2011-12. It’s the best college football team (UP) against the unlikely finalists (Ateneo who the previous season finished second to the last).

It’s going to be an explosive match up.

As for FEU, they’ll learn from this. Watching from the sidelines will add to their motivation for next season.