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Final Four for Dummies: A guide to the UAAP Football postseason

(Graphics by Jesus Erick Mangilit. Photos by Denver Lachica and Michael Joseph Romero)

By Kevin Estrada and Earl Averilla

The quest for collegiate football glory turns up a notch today, when the UAAP Football postseason kicks off with the Final Four of the Men's Tournament at the fabled Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Nearly three months of hard-fought battles on and off the pitch generated tons of drama for the race to get into the postseason, and only four of the eight schools have made the cut.

Without further ado, let's get this started.

To Begin with..
There was only one change in the Final Four cast, with FEU returned to the postseason with a bang after missing it out on their title-defence last season, dispatching La Salle who ended up with the worst record in nine years. 

Top-seed Ateneo, champions UP and season hosts UST are the holdovers from last year's Final Four, with the Growling Tigers took the final seat in the proverbial bus on the penultimate matchday with the Blue Eagles gave the España outfit a massive favor by knocking their archrivals La Salle out of contention just a couple of hours after UST came from a goal down to stun FEU.

With all the intros been said and done, let's go straight to the matchups.

#1 Ateneo vs #4 UST: UNPREDICTABLE
Ateneo and UST meet in the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.
The curtain-raiser to the Men's Final Four is a long overdue rematch of the final 12 years ago, where UST tactician Marjo Allado was a couple of years away before taking over his alma mater and current Ateneo gaffer Jaypee Merida was playing for his legendary uncle Ompong who went on for a three-peat, something that has not happen in UAAP Football since then.

Now, both Allado and Merida are now passing on their experience to the current generation their booters, and they lock horns in the 3PM match to see who takes the first spot in the final.

TALE OF THE TAPE: In a battle of contrasts between the leading predators, Ateneo are miles ahead of UST across the board, and it showed by doing the double over the Tigers, including a 5-1 beatdown last February 12.

Fourteen points was the gap between them in the table at the conclusion of the eliminations. But this is the postseason, where everything can happen and a single mistake can spell doom for either side. Quoting Van Gaal, the ball is now ROUNDER.

YOUNG MEN STAND UP!: What can be one of the most underrated topics in this fixture was the prominence of the freshmen and sophomores of both sides, as they can show that they can steal the spotlight from their upperclassmen.

With nine goals to his name, sophomore striker Jarvey Gayoso is running away with his second consecutive Golden Boot and is expected to be their source of their vaunted offence. But what sets the Blue Eagles apart from the rest of the league was their prominence of their freshman class, with Merida starting at most 6 of those shaved-heads every match.

AJ Jarcilla became the gold standard in goalkeeping as he leads the league with 9 shutouts and only 3 goals let in. Enzo Ceniza shone in a couple of big matches, including a winner in the first Katipunan Derby. The blondie Jordan Jarvis can be a shape-shifter and a game-changer at the same time, as he is able to quickly adjust from right-back to the middle of the field that he displayed against Adamson.

UST can't be denied with their sophomore contingent, as it contributed heavily with their scoring load, with the trio of Renz Gumban, AJ Pasion and Jayson Rafol each found the back of the net three times this season. Their blinding speed make up for their physical disadvantage against Ateneo, where they took them to a series of sprints in the wings in their March 25 return fixture, only to stumble with a late own goal at the end.

A CLEAR WINNER, PERHAPS?
With a general championship already secured for their school, UST will be happy to be here, however, ending the 10-year drought in the season they hosted is still the main target for Allado and co. as they dare to dream to bring back the glory to España Boulevard.

But history is always kind to the number one seed somehow in the Final Four era, as four of the five teams that finish as topnotchers ended up winning it all, and Ateneo is looking forward to make it five out the last six, starting tomorrow.

The battle will be won on the middle and upper third, with the Blue Eagles being the slight favorites but don't count UST out yet as they can pull the shocker upset of the year if they get their mojo that won them the Ang Liga in the preseason over their more fancied Ateneo outfit.


#2 UP v #3 FEU: WE MEET AGAIN
Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport, stadium and outdoor
The Diliman Derby is the most played fixture in UAAP Football postseason since the Final Four was instituted.
The past two champions of the men's tournament battle it out for a place in the final in a 6PM kickoff. And although both squads have shown inconsistencies during the course of the season, Anto Gonzales’ men have the slight advantage against their Diliman counterparts

TALE OF THE TAPE: The six-point gap can be misleading for both sides, although UP had a slight edge over FEU not just in their elimination round fixtures but also in overall form, as the Tamaraws showed more lapses this year especially in dropping their last two games of the season.

Although FEU will come into this as the slight underdog, the wealth of individual talents in this team cannot be denied and given this will be the playoff stage will give more motivation for Vince Santos’ and co. to step up to the occasion.

THE BIG GUNS: The key players for this semifinal should be able to deliver and play to their strengths as they aim to continue their journey to the final.

For UP, their talented backline with the Clarino brothers and Marco Casambre should shine in making big tackles and shutting down the opposition’s offense. The midfield powerhouse Daniel Gadia should provide the heartbeat of the team as the transition from defense to offense. While Jeremiah Borlongan will be crucial from the left wing to spark the offense with his marauding runs and supply of crosses to Kintaro Miyagi up front.

For FEU, the flair and creativity of the midfield pair of Paolo Bugas and Val Jurao should work double time in inspiring their squad to create those needed chances and for any chance to dominate the game. Also their set pieces should be one of their feared arsenals that they should use to the fore and should take meticulous execution of with Bugas’ corners and Audie Menzi’s free kicks from range that could pose problems to their opposition.

ANY TAKERS?
With these things considered, this matchup will be the tighter of the two semifinal matches. The result will depend on who will be able to impose their play, who will be more disciplined in the defensive end, and the team that will be able to take the chances especially the set pieces. A tough match is expected in this fixture between these two teams and the match could be won either in a counterattacking move or a well-executed set-piece.

TO CONCLUDE:
Expect all out, all heart footy once it kicks off on Thursday, a part of a solid week for the Beautiful Game in the country.

School pride will be on the line and expect a loud and intense Rizal Memorial that can fill up to the rafters.

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