Far Eastern University (FEU), powered by a desire to win for their fallen comrade, snagged the first post-pandemic UAAP men’s football crown for Season 86 in blistering fashion, demolishing defending champions Ateneo de Manila, 4-1, in the final Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Buoyed by the excellent play of Karl Absalon, the younger brother of the late Tamaraw booter Kieth Absalon, the Tamaraws scored two early goals and never looked back despite threats of a comeback by the Blue Eagles.
“Ang championship na ito ay para kay kuya,” the versatile winger Absalon said, referring to his older brother who was slain by a bomb planted by armed insurgents in his hometown Masbate two years ago.
The Rookie of the Year knocked in the opening goal in the 12th minute, catching a missed save by Ateneo goalkeeper Artuz Cezar and striking from the left flank.
Absalon continued his brilliance in the 30th minute, issuing a quick left cross to an open Gerald Estores, who struck an uncontested goal from the six-yard box.
Ateneo tried to catch up, issuing a number of passes to their towering forward Kofi Agyei for header chances on their final third to no avail while striker Leo Maquiling had an open chance from the six-yard box in the 60th minute, but his strike hit the right goal post.
The Blue Eagles finally struck the back of the net five minutes later, with midfielder Galen Fernandez’s thunderous strike from top of the box off a loose ball.
Fellow midfielder Sky Guerrero tried but failed to repeat a similar shot in the 82nd minute for a potential equalizer, but Best Striker and Best Midfielder awardee Gio Pabualan hit with the proper English and sank a 20-yard free kick from the right flank for the insurance goal.
Ateneo then inadvertently padded FEU’s lead with an own goal by wing-back Bernardo Closa off a poor header clearance from a right-wing volley by Tamaraw forward Martini Rey.
“It feels great, especially since we missed football for the last three years. It is such a rewarding feeling rebuilding the program from scratch and winning both the high school and men’s championship,” said FEU head coach Vince Santos after the game.
With the win, the Tamaraws have won their fifth men’s football title and their first since 2015.
FEU has a chance to bag the season treble, achieved also in Season 77, as the Lady Tamaraws are set to face defending champions De La Salle University on Sunday, also at Rizal Memorial Stadium, for the women’s football final to close all UAAP hostilities for Season 85.