Match reports from Thursday's Final Four action from the Erenchun Field in Ateneo.
Ateneo 0, De La Salle 0 AET. Ateneo wins via PSO 4-3.
The Blue Booter's entry into the UAAP Senior's Men's Football Final was sealed with a kiss on Valentine's Day.
Jico Noel of Ateneo was tasked with breaking the 3-3 deadlock in the fifth round of their penalty shootout with De La Salle. The centerback gave the ball a buss before placing it on the spot, then moments later stroked it to the right of Archer keeper Patrick Deyto.
While Noel and the rest of the Blue Booters erupted in celebration, Deyto sank to his knees and sobbed, surrounded by his team mates. The fifth year senior was unable to extend his UAAP career for another game.
Moments before Noel's winner, Deyto was tasked with taking La Salle's fifth round kick and it was saved brilliantly by Ateneo's towering stopper Nick O'Donnell.
It was a bitter loss for fourth seed DLSU, who bowed out of the competition despite comprehensively outplaying top-seeded Ateneo for two hours of normal play.
La Salle needed a win to force a Sunday decider against Ateneo, who held a twice-to-beat advantage.
Don Rabaya, La Salle's striker, was magnificent in defeat, creating problems with his passing and serving up chances all day long. But since he could not finish, the game went to the lottery of the penalty shootout.
Rabaya delivered a great cross to Antonio Celdran in the 22nd minute, but O'Donnell was equal to the ensuing volley.
Ten minutes later Rabaya fired at goal off a delightful ball from Nate Alquiros but again O'Donnell denied him.
The second half saw more dominance from La Salle, as Greggy Yang came close on two free kick attempts, one saved by O'Donnell.
Gio Diamante could have broken the ice for the Archers in the 75th but he took too many touches off a Rabaya through ball and his chance was neutralized by the Ateneo defense.
Ateneo looked little like the team that lost only one game all season (against DLSU) and had trouble creating chances on their own. Their best shot, from Philip Gozali in the 83rd, was smothered by Deyto.
With three minutes to go Gelo Diamante, Gio's brother, squandered a gilt-edged one-on-one opportunity versus O'Donnell and sprayed wide right.
Just before time Ateneo's Leo Carlo Liay almost scored against the run of play but his header floated over the cross bar.
The extension failed to settle matters and a penalty shootout was called for.
La Salle coach Hans Smit had subbed out many of his usual penalty takers and perhaps he paid for it.
La Salle took the early lead when Alquiros scored and Ateneo reserve keeper Yu Murayama, who had come on as a field player in extra time, saw his shot blocked by Deyto.
But Ateneo's Val Calvo, Mikko Mabanag, Liay, and Noel were all on target while Yang and Deyto missed for La Salle, dooming the Archers.
“Hindi ako makahinga nung shootout. Ang last shootout namin 2005 pa” confessed Ateneo coach JP Merida. “Nabuhayan ako during the game nung nakita ko na yung mga kicker ng DLSU na dapat ilaban, sinub.”
Smit relieved Celdran, both Gelo and Gio Diamante, Matt Nierras, and Andres Mayol before the penalty shootout.
“We had the better chances. It wasn't supposed to reach the penalty shootout” said Smit after.
Ateneo plays the winner of Sunday's FEU-UP do or die Final Four game on Thursday, February 21. The finals series will be best-of-three.
FEU 5, UP 1.
After two straight losses to the UP Maroon Booters, FEU let it all hang out against State U on Thursday.
Four days after losing game one of their virtual best-of-three series on Sunday, 2-0, the Tamaraws abused a leadfooted UP defense with a first half hat-trick from Jonjon Melliza plus scores from Angelou Jurao and Eric Giganto.
FEU's small-ball short passing game, which sputtered last week, was lethal on Thursday.
The two teams square off again on Sunday at 2 pm in Ateneo, with the winner advancing to next Thursday's final versus Ateneo.
The teams ended the regular season level on 25 points behind league-leading Ateneo so they played Sunday to determine who got the twice-to-beat advantage that comes with the second seed, before playing again.
Melliza volleyed home in the seventh minute to open the scoring. He got his second in the 34th when he one-touched from the left flank against sluggish UP defending.
UP's Jinggoy Valmayor pulled one back five minutes before the half with a brilliant free kick that FEU keeper Michael Menzi only got half a palm to, not enough to keep it out.
But just before the half a Jurao shot was cleared off the line by UP but straight to Melliza, who converted for a first-half hat trick.
Melliza, from La Paz, Iloilo, leads the league in scoring with 21 goals, or 1.5 a game.
UP came alive in the second half with attempts from Boiboi Fernandez, Atan De Guzman, and Valmayor but all were either corraled by Menzi or missed the mark.
Five minutes from time Melliza nearly got his fourth but his effort clanged off the post. Three minutes later he supplied a through ball to Giganto, who rounded UP keeper Ace Villanueva and tapped in the last goal.
Sunday's game will decide not only the finalist but also the season series. FEU routed UP in the first round 5-0, lost to them 1-0 in the second round, lost 2-0 in the playoff, then came back with this big win.
You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.