Maroon at the top
It was a difficult season for UP but the finals game was a cinch.
by rick olivares pic by brosi gonzales
February 26, 2012
Ateneo High School Football Field
The football season began as it started. With UP playing the first and last games and both, wins. More importantly, they were defending champions when the tournament kicked off and after two months of intense competition, they remain champions. And for good measure, for the third time in four years.
The Fighting Maroons dominated the championship game against punchless UST and they only needed one goal to confirm their mastery of their España-based foe that has yet to beat them in two years. A simple through ball in the 61st minute by winger Jay Eusebio slipped past central backs Ronald Batisla-Ong and Dadam Regis and that put striker Jinggoy Valmayor in a one-on-one situation against keeper Mon Borigas that was almost too easy. Valmayor simply slotted it in for his fifth goal of the season.
At the start of the game, it looked like UST’s rookie left back, John Timothy Bolo was battling a case of nerves as he misplayed a series of first and second balls that UP was quick to exploit. Valmayor dashed forward with Bolo and Batisla-Ong trying to close him down. But the rock solid forward managed to get a shot off that Borigas parried away.
The Maroons forced the Tigers to make their runs from the flanks and the wingers were not successful in sending playable crosses for striker Ojay Clarino. Instead, they overshot their target or were picked off by UP keeper Tyrone Caballes.
UP ended the first half with Ghanaian midfielder Ayi Aryee volleying from some 25 yards out that was a little high above the crossbar. Another message that the Maroons were finding the range.
UST, making its third consecutive men’s football finals appearance (sadly all losing efforts), only found some life to their attack when Nigerian forward Uche Ememandu came in after Valmayor’s strike. But UP’s vaunted defense (that has surrendered only one goal all season including two last year) clamped down and left the Tigers with no shots on goal.
It wasn’t an easy season for the champions as they only had one win and four draws to show after five matches. While the team was clearly not in sync (with some flashes of infighting seen during or after games), their defense, as anchored by central back Deo Segunial, held them. They faced strong challenges from the other teams but in the second round, they rediscovered their winning form.
The Tigers on the other hand, started the tournament well but faded in the second round. Suspensions to starting midfielders Ronnel Lagrimas and Ken Parao didn’t help their cause one bit in the finals as their mids failed to feed Clarino a decent ball. They ended the season once more in heartbreak and with more questions. With Clarino graduating, there’s a hole up front that has to be filled. But perhaps, how can this team bounce back after three successive defeats in the finals (2010 to FEU and 2011 and 2012 to UP).
As for next year, “I’ll think about that in a few month’s time,” said UP co-head coach Anto Gonzales after the match. Gonzales won two titles as a player and three as head coach (with Frank Muescan). “I want to celebrate first and savor this.”
Most Valuable Player – Nathan Octavio (UP)
Best Striker – Jesus Melliza with seven goals (FEU)
Best Midfielder – Ayi Nii Aryee
Best Defender – Shirmar Felongco (UST)
Best Goalkeeper – Tyrone Caballes (UP)
Rookie of the Year – Michael Simms (UP)