Ateneo 1 vs. University of the East 0
by rick olivares
January 27, 2008
Ateneo De Manila University
After every game so far this year, the Ateneo Blue Booters have been served several boxes of pizza by its boosters. After last Wednesday’s surprise shutout by the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, the pizza never seemed more unpalatable and cold. The team sat at the east end of the Ocampo Field; the small pitch that has always given them trouble what with their need for space and to move the ball around. Some former players passed the boxes around for the current team to grab a slice, but none seemed interested as the shock loss weighed heavy on their minds. With the teams all bunched up close to one another in the standings, another loss could be perilous to any title ambitions.
Four days later. To be precise, one hour and thirty minutes prior the start of Ateneo’s final match of the first round against the surging UE Red Warriors (who chalked up consecutive wins against UP and DLSU), James Arco, Alvin Perez, and Doods Lansang were in Ocampo Field to watch the Ateneo women’s team take on DLSU (the match ended in a scoreless draw). “We’re ready to go,” volunteered Arco. “We’re never going to come out and play flat again.”
“You never walk alone, bro,” quoted Lansang of that Rodgers and Hammerstein song that has become a popular football song most notably by Liverpool FC. Lansang then flashed his taped left wrist; a tribute to the
It was a good sign. The team was loose right before the game despite the pressure and possible implications of the match whatever its outcome.
Five minutes into the game, Ateneo seized control and began a relentless attack that had the Red Booters on their heels. Red goalkeeper Robert Marto harangued his defensive backs no end to repel the sorties and to keep pace with Ateneo’s Gerard Cancio who was beating them not only to the ball but was getting good looks and shots at the goal.
In the 28th minute, Arco picked off UE sweeper Roland Alcejera’s weak clearance and immediately darted ahead. He crossed over to Cancio who split the middle and drew the defense to him. Gino Tongson flashed right and was rewarded with another cross that sailed over Alcejera’s outstretched leg. Marto never saw Tongson coming that all the Atenean had to do was push the ball in for the goal.
In times past, after Tongson would score a goal, he run around the pitch in rapturous celebration. If it was a ferocious match and when ticked off by the roughhousing, Tongson would run towards the opponent’s bench and point to his jersey. But after being chastened for his banishment in the season opener and subsequent suspension in following match, Tongson has been a model citizen sticking to the team’s system and coach Ompong Merida’s strict adherence to fair play. And after scoring his second goal of the tournament, he merely raised his fist ala Michael Jordan. Then walked back to the midfield to high fives with his teammates.
When he missed another pair of point blank stabs that would have buried UE, Tongson apologized to his teammates and coach. “I’m sorry,” he sheepishly pleaded as teammate Perez kidded him after the match of playful taunts of “Ikaw ang may kasalanan” – (Arco got the same treatment for missing another one). "I was following the system." Perez laughed and gave him a high five.
UE could have tied in several minutes after Ateneo’s first strike but a couple of players were called offside. And despite Ateneo dominance of ball possession, they never added to Tongson’s goal and the game ended 1-0.
Jolo Peralta was magnificent in the midfield as he time and again set up Cancio and the others for great shots that just missed.
In the post-game huddle of the University of the East, coach Lloyd James Lim was quick to offer encouraging words to his young wards. His team despite parading mostly freshmen and sophomores have given a better account of themselves than the previous years when they finished the competition without a win. Lim, ever gracious in defeat, told them to learn from their opponents and how and why they win. The UE booters finished the first round at fifth in the standings ahead by five points over surprise cellar-dweller DLSU. If they will give a good account of themselves in the second round, said Lim, then they could figure for a title run.
Over at the Ateneo side of the field,
Last Wednesday, the post-match huddle had the atmosphere of a wake. Today, after a confidence boosting win they were bathed in smiles. And when the pizza boxes were passed around by their former teammates there was no hesitation in the players’ digging in.
“I’m hungry,” declared Arco as he picked up his belongings.
What about a championship, I asked.
“That’s what we all want,” laughed the second year-player as he made his way towards the locker room.