UP men's football team

Champs Once More: UP Men’s Football Team Pulls Off A Turnaround For The Ages

Following a disappointing and tragedy-filled Season 85, the UP men’s football team are UAAP Season 86 champs.

On the final playing day of the final event of UAAP Season 86, the UP men’s football team saved the best for last.

The Fighting Maroons crowned themselves unlikely UAAP champions with a clinical 1-0 win over deposed champions Far Eastern University Tamaraws on Thursday at the Rizal Football Stadium, officially bringing to a close all competitions for the league’s 86th season.

It is the first men’s football title for UP since Season 80, and 19th overall, and it comes a year after disappointment and heartbreak marred their Season 85 campaign. The adage “what a difference a year makes” never rang truer.

In Season 85, the team submitted an uneven performance and missed the Final Four for the first time in 13 years. Then on the day of their final match, their foreign student athlete Yoro Sangare collapsed outside of his dormitory building and died of a heart attack, jarring the team to its core. The players decided to push through with their match, even though the league gave them the option to postpone it. They lost, and were officially eliminated.

The Fighting Maroons dedicated each game of this season to their fallen teammate, displaying his jersey in each pre-game photo of the starting XI. Now, a full year after, the Fighting Maroons are back on their perch as men’s football champions, while also denying FEU a double treble, or a sweep of all three football titles for the second year in a row, and gifting Popoy Clarino a title in his very first year as head coach.

Yoro Sangare was with the UP men’s football every step of the way, in spirit. (UAAP Media Bureau)
‘Intense match’

The win was well-deserved for UP, who controlled the tempo for most of the first half and created more chances. The Tamaraws’ vaunted offense was nowhere to be found, as main man Martini Rey turned into a marked man thanks to UP’s suffocating defense. On offense, UP was consistently knocking at the door, making FEU keeper Jerick Fabrigas a very busy man.

The Fighting Maroons finally broke through in the 50th minute after Francis Tacardon, later named Most Valuable Player, was fouled in the penalty box and team captain Macky Tobias stepped up to slot the penalty kick into the bottom right hand side of the net.

For just the third time in the tournament, the Tamaraws found themselves trailing. Despite their best efforts and a series of substitutions, they just couldn’t get an equalizer, although they hit the woodwork twice in the last third of the match. When they needed their offense the most, it abandoned them. And while the Tamaraws stepped it up in the final 20 minutes, it never felt like they were in control as the Fighting Maroons held firm.

“It was a very intense match. You know, in the first-half it was a back-and-forth game. It was very unpredictable, di mo alam sino lumalamang. But then come second half after the team talked, after we boys talked to each other, pushed each other, lumabas ung UP fighting spirit,” Tacardon said. “Credit to FEU who gave us a really tough time most of the second half.”

Clarino, who succeeded longtime UP coach Anto Gonzales, had this to say: “As expected we were up against the championship-caliber FEU team. It was a very good game, but I think we wanted it more. It showed on how we played, we were quite fortunate towards the end, FEU had an attempt but it hit the crossbar.”

Peaking at the right time

The arcs of both teams appeared to have intersected as the tournament entered the homestretch, with UP trending upwards and FEU downwards.

Although the Tamaraws entered the final as the favorites, their form heading to Thursday had been inconsistent. They were blanked by UP for the first time in the tournament in a 2-nil defeat, barely scraped past also-ran UE in their last elimination round match, and looked shaky in their 2-1 win over Ateneo in the Final Four where they trailed for majority of the match.

The Fighting Maroons suffered two early defeats – including a 4-2 shellacking at the hands of the Tamaraws –  in the first round and another one at the start of the second before cranking it up down the stretch with six straight wins – including a nail-biting penalty shootout triumph over UST in the Final Four. UP peaked at just the right time; after allowing a whopping 10 goals in the first round, the team surrendered just four in the second.

“I think it was our resiliency that brought us towards the end. We wanted to give back to the UP community, our families, and of course to God we won’t be here if we weren’t given this talent to showcase to other people,” Clarino said.

Banner image from UAAP Media Bureau.

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