A Preview of the UAAP Men’s Football Finals between UP and UST
by rick olivares
When the finals of the UAAP Men’s Football tournament between the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas kicks off at 2pm tomorrow February 27, 2011, the odds on favorite to win it all are the Fighting Maroons.
Not only have they an incredible nine-win and one-draw slate that saw them account for 28 points but also they twice beat the Growling Tigers en route to the finals berth.
Even on a bad day, such as their first round meeting when UST thoroughly dominated possession and scoring chances, UP’s defense held and they pounced on one of few mistakes for the game winning goal. And when they were on, such as the second round 2-0 win, the Tigers looked befuddled and lost. The 2-0 win was every bit like the Azkals similar score line against Mongolia in Panaad – they should have added a few more. That’s how dominating they were.
UST hopes for a reverse of fortunes now that they are the underdog. In last season’s finals against FEU, the Tigers had the twice-to-beat advantage, but the Tamaraws took them in two straight. Now they are hoping to return the favor against UP.
But that’s wishful thinking. UST has to play the game of their lives to take what is looking more and more like another title for the Maroons who have become a powerhouse in college football in the last three years.
For the Fighting Maroons, they should be playing for their third straight championship but they sputtered home after huge first round wins were overturned when it was found out that two players had competed in the United Football League that ran concurrent to the UAAP and the league forbids that.
Both squads have championship experience but between the two, the Maroons have quite a few mainstays who played crucial roles in their 2009 title run. As for the Tigers, only one player has won a seniors football title and that is captain David Basa who lifted the trophy while a prodigious freshman on the 2007 champion team.
“It’s a new slate for both teams,” said UST head coach Marjo Allado who is gunning for his second title after leading the Tigers to the 2007 crown. The only remnant from that squad is central back David Basa who is now team captain.
“Sana makapag-graduate na champion ulit,” hoped Basa who was a reserve on the Philippine Men’s National Football Team during the 2010 Suzuki Cup. “Nanalo ako noong freshman ako at sana sa last year ko. Maganda rin regalo yan sa UST sa 400th anniversary ng iskwelahan.”
UP – The Fighting Maroons play a 4-2-3-1 formation that at times changes to a 4-3-3 depending on game situations. The former is an ultra-defensive formation as evidenced by their top-rated defense as they surrendered only two goals all season long. Central backs Deo Segunial and Allen Serna have been rock solid in the back four. Plus they have the height and experience to turn back attacks.
Second year player Ayi Nii Aryee has looked shaky at time at holding midfield but he is fortunate to have Segunial behind him. Aryee has never played at that position as he was a striker for Ghana’s Under-16 national team. But the UP coaching staff likes his defensive instincts that make up for the loss of Andrei Mercader and Francis Liza.
Once the defense has turned back an attack, they are quick to send the ball to the wings where the speed and Octavio and Permanes on the wings on the quick counter have opponents rapidly backpedalling.
Simply put, this is a team that doesn’t make too many mistakes.
As for UST, they have for the most part of the season, played 3-5-2 (they switched to a more conventional 4-4-2 twice). The last time that formation ran to perfection was when FEU used that in 2008 with Jason Cordova as their central back. Basa fits that tall and rangy defender. He’s good and fast enough to go with the league’s top strikers and powerful enough not to go down against the more physical attackers.
But in UST’s second round matches against UP and FEU, Basa made a few mistakes that led to an opponents score (see FEU striker Jesus Melliza).
Allado has put the inconsistent Joel Bones on the bench leaving the freshman Ronald Batisla-Ong to man the right with Noel Francisco on the left. As good as Basa is, the Tigers’ success on repelling counters is also dependent on the game of John Caballero and Ronnel Lagrimas who run up and down the wings because the problem of a 3-5-2 formation is not getting defenders back to help out those lightning attacks.
Jinggoy Valmayor has continued his goal-scoring ways in college as he topped the eliminations with eight strikes over FEU’s Jesus Melliza who finished with seven.
Not since Ateneo’s Roger Lastimado has there been a striker of Valmayor’s toughness. He can take a hit inside and finish with the best of them. UST has to worry about him because in both elimination games matches, Valmayor hurt the Tigers real bad.
With Jay Eusebio out of the finals due to an injury, the onus is on Stephen Permanes and Nathan Octavio to provide relief and that through ball for Valmayor to operate on top. The UP coaching staff is hoping that Nathan de Guzman, who returns to the starting unit will spell the savvy of Eusebio who knows a thing or two about dribbling around a defender then making a great pass.
UP scored 14 goals all season with eight coming from Valmayor. They’ve had several 1-nil wins which is proof that they win it with defense and they always find ways to secure the three full points.
However, UST is no slouch on offense as they scored a league best 20 goals with seven different players tallying scores. They have Ojay Clariño who has six goals to his elimination round tally. Clariño has great moves inside the box. He is strong enough to battle the tough defensive backs yet sometimes shows a tendency to go down instead of finishing.
Nine players scored for the Tigers during the season with Clariño getting superb help from rookie Fidel Kue and Ronnel Lagrimas who each have three goals. If Allado can get second year striker Christian de Juan untracked they will have UP’s defense busy all finals long.
De Juan, last year’s Rookie of the Year, has been the missing link (albeit Kue, his fellow Barotacnon has filled in admirably) as he has been in an out of the lineup due to an illness and death in the family. He scored only one goal this year but he would love to add more to put behind last year’s finals flop when he missed the final match owing to two yellow cards.
If anyone is worried that there will be any drop off from the Maroons next year when Stephen Permanes, Jed Rances, and Keith Mordeno graduate, all they have to do is watch their final 2-0 win over DLSU. That might be a misnomer as they took on a dispirited La Salle squad that knew they were not going to the finals anymore following UST’s earlier throttling of Ateneo but nevertheless, UP’s Anto Gonzales fielded their second eleven that put up a superb performance. There was no drop off in their defense or even in their attack.
UP has a bevy of players who are technically sound and who have that gift for great passing.
As for UST, Allado can count on three players to provide instant relief – Mar Mungcal, Louie Rodriguez, and Bones. Of the three, it has been Rodriguez who has been fantastic as he can help out on offense where he scored two goals on top of helping midfielder Shinmar Felongco set up the attack.
Mungcal has alternated with John Caballero in starting. If the two have their passing game going and are threats on offense, watch out.
Keys to victory:
Patience. UP has shown remarkable patience in setting up their offense with their two-touch passing (through ball then the cross) whereas UST has shown nerves. Against UP (in both matches) and FEU (second round), the Tigers tend to self-destruct when things aren’t going their way. For a team that leads the league in scoring, UST has a tendency to over dribble and overpass when a shot should have been made. When the midfield can’t get their act together, they go to the long ball. Unfortunately for them, UP has some terrific defenders to battle for those high balls.
Playing the full 90 minutes. The UP coaching staff was worried about playing La Salle in the finals. The Green Archers play the full 90 minutes and have gotten goals in stoppage time. UST has an alarming tendency to dig themselves into a hole. If a team scores early against the Tigers then they go to their thin bench which is what UP wants. The Tigers, save for the second round game against UP, have proven to be a dangerous second half team. But while that is winning time, it’s never easy to dig oneself out of a hole early on.
Coaching. The finals series features two of the top young coaches in the country today in Anto Gonzales/Frank Muescan for UP and Marjo Allado for UST. All three have shown a remarkable ability to make those in-game adjustments. At this point, the teams know what they have to do. The challenge here is to provide that source of wisdom and encouragement to their wards (as Gonzales and Allado are both known screamers) in that battle for the marbles. Muescan, the head coach is no slouch himself as he presents the yang to Gonzales yin.
Whoever imposes their will on the game and is able to sustain their game will come away as a repeat champ.
Prediction: UP over UST.
Raymark Fernandez Deo Segunial Allen Serna Juan Miguel Roy
Ayi Nii Aryee Jed Rances
Nathan Octavio Stephen Permanes Nathan de Guzman
Ojay Clarino Fidel Kue
Ronnel Lagrimas Shinmar Felongco Christian de Juan Nic Palacio John Caballero
Noel Francisco Dave Basa Ronald Batisla-Ong
My Final Season Awards:
Rookie of the Year: Jinggoy Valmayor, UP
Best Midfielder: Stephen Permanes, UP
Best Defender: David Basa, UST
Golden Boot: Jinggoy Valmayor, UP
Best Goal Keeper: Patrick Deyto, DLSU
MVP: Jinggoy Valmayor, UP