There was one minor concern heading into the game. Luis Canlas, who plays in the holding midfield role – this is the defensive midfielder whose role it is to protect the backline just behind him – was set to miss the game because of his senior class retreat. Canlas is a vital member of the team; but I call his absence a “minor” concern because right fullback Gillian Albano – who had played in the holding midfield role before – had been in terrific form for the duration of the NCAA-South.
What I was careful to point out to the boys early this morning before they left for the venue, thus, was that a football game is always about the team and never about the individual. There were fourteen of them left, I said, to ensure that the temporary loss of Canlas was appropriately covered.
After lunch, one of the boys sent in this text message: “Sir, tapos na pô ang game. 2-1 pô score. We’re the champions!”
The 2-1 scoreline – I must say – was not as emphatic as I rather hoped it would be. We had beaten Letran 3-nil in the group stage, even if we had been reduced to 10 men as early as the first half. Although we did not score as many goals in this game as we had against the other schools in the tournament, they were not making much of an impression on our goal, either.
I have been in this business for a while now; so I knew the scoreline probably meant that it was not a pretty game. A winner-takes-all final is always different from a group game. Even fully professional teams rather tend to take the pragmatic approach towards cup finals; i.e. keeping things tight at the back and being timid about throwing bodies forward into the attack.
When I spoke to the boys towards the end of the day, everyone confirmed what I suspected. The ball was mostly in the air and passes could not be strung together. Both defenses were on top of their games and were conscious about denying opposing forwards the room to operate.
Not that our boys are conditioned to take the defensive stance as a team philosophy. On the contrary, our previous results attest to our commitment to attack: 10-0 and 18-0 against FAITH; 11-0 against San Beda Alabang; and 3-0 in the group stage against Letran. The boys can close up shop when need be; but, by and large, the players we have know the exhilaration to be had from attacking as a unit. I rather suspect that FAITH’s cabbage patch of a field had more than just a little to do about it.
To be fair, the field probably has more grass than ours; and it does look good from afar. Walk through it, though, and you immediately know what I am talking about. It is totally uneven from one end to the other. The contractor must have laid the patches of grass in time for the tournament; but did not know that the field had to be rolled. The ball, therefore, bounces this way and that like a crazy rabbit; not good for passing football at all!
Football can be a cruel, cruel game; and although it is called the beautiful game, it is also one which can be capable of serving so many injustices. In the story Quality Shines Through, I described how our Filipino-Italian striker Enzo Gherardelli was shown the red card for retaliation. What was unjust was that he was the subject of physical abuse just moments before.
However, football can also be a game during which justice is served. That seemed to be the case this morning for Enzo, forced to sit out the 18-nil semi-final rout of FAITH but whose two goals won us the championship. I did warn the rest of the team before they left not to let the Italian lose his temper.
For Enzo, there was also the added honor of being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. No more than the lad deserved; as in, really! But if I may, everyone in this team is an MVP for at the very least this tournament. Even Mark Bernardino, who kept a clean sheet between the sticks in the group game against Letran when he is really an outfielder and a Bryan Adams wannabe…
There you go. Last year, this very same group of players scored goals for fun in the early stages before being held to a draw in the finals by a determined team from Philippine Christian University-Dasmariñas and then beaten in a cruel penalty shootout. Some of the boys – then – were close to tears; but I was having none of the soap opera. Instead, I told the boys, the quest for the NCAA-South title began there and then.
It has been almost a year to the day since. All I can say is “Well done boys! Mission accomplished!” Too often, we routinely and mechanically raise our fists when the alma mater song is sung during assemblies. Many of us do not even bother to contemplate the pledge we are making when we do so.
And never shall we fail… Well done boys! Well done!
Quality Shines Through
Not a Time to Lose the FAITH