The battle for a spot in the Final Four continued earlier today at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium as the DLSU Men’s Football Team recorded a vital 2-1 victory over the NU Bulldogs. Cristian Zubiri netted the first goal of the match at the 13th minute but it was soon equalized by Simplicio Mantal Jr. at the 32’ mark. The winning goal was scored by Mathew Custodio as he found the back of the net in the 64th minute after a long ball by Joem Logarta.
“Good win. Good moral booster for the top four so let’s see what happens,” said head coach Hans Smit after the game.
La Salle now has a record of six wins, one draw, and five losses, resulting to a 19-point total with one game remaining in the elimination round.
Paeng Siggaoat launched the Taft-based squad’s first attempt on goal in the sixth minute after receiving the ball from Jeremiah Bernaldez but his shot just went over the bar for a goal kick. Seven minutes later, the deadlock was finally broken after the Lasallians cut open the NU defense.
Custodio shook off an early injury scare during the opening minute and was able to contribute a crucial assist that led to the match’s first goal. The Green-and-White was able to clear the ball away following the Bulldogs’ attack and Custodio quickly made a brilliant run for a counter-attack. The burly striker then received a lobbed through ball from a teammate and dribbled towards the goal. Custodio then found an open Zubiri who capitalized on the defensive error of NU and smashed home La Salle’s first goal.
The Bulldogs had two chances to equalize at the 24’ and 30’ marks but free kicks from Marvin Viray and Lawrence Colina did not yield a goal. Sandwiched in between was the denied penalty appeal of the Taft-based squad. Custodio found Zubiri inside the box once again but the latter was not able to attempt a shot as he went down following a tackle.
“It happens. That’s part of the game. Sometimes referees see it the other way so we cannot cry over spilled milk. In football, you just have to go on and continue playing,” Smit stated.
NU soon found an equalizer in the 32nd minute as Mantal Jr. headed the ball past La Salle’s goalkeeper, Paeng De Guzman. The goalkeeper was beaten by the initial attempt of Colina but it only hit the bar and Mantal Jr. was the quickest player to react on the rebound play.
Just before the half ended, a scuffle between Renzo Perez and Owen Padernal happened as both players had a heated exchange but the referee decided not to book the two.
With NU dominating most of the possession during the first half, the Green-and-White looked to change its gameplan heading into the final 45 minutes of the match. NU’s first attempt in the second half came from a Viray miss at the 47’ mark. DLSU immediately went on the counter-attack but Custodio’s run was denied, thus resulting to a corner kick. NU was lucky enough to be safe from another La Salle attempt but NU’s goalkeeper, Chris Perocho, collided with a fellow teammate resulting to a quick stop of the match.
After a few minutes, DLSU and NU were in a back-and-forth affair with both sides making crucial defensive stops. At the 60’ mark, the Bulldogs were looking to make a run with Viray leading the charge on the wings. Viray’s cross did not find the target and DLSU responded with another long ball towards the offense. Custodio, Zubiri, and Yoshiharu Koizumi showed excellent chemistry as they combined well to set-up Zubiri in the box but his shot was denied resulting to another corner for the Green-and-White.
At the 64’ mark, Custodio was surrounded by two defenders near the edge of the goal line but he was able to make a turn and slot the ball past Perocho at the bottom left corner to give La Salle a 2-1 advantage. Custodio’s goal seemed to shift the momentum to the Green-and-White as Zubiri attempted another shot on goal two minutes later but it resulted into a miss.
Seeing that time was not on their side, NU went full throttle with its offense and generated two chances to equalize with a corner kick at the 68’ mark and a free-kick at the 70’ mark but La Salle was able to make stops by playing excellent defense resulting into more opportunities to score.
Following the second NU attempt, Smit made some line-up changes for the latter part of the half. After an excellent game, Zubiri was replaced by Marcus Garcia at the 69’ mark while Mauro Acot checked into the game for the first time replacing Bernaldez at the 70’ mark. Acot immediately got himself involved in DLSU’s offense but Perez was not able to capitalize on his cross.
NU had a final attempt to equalize at the 83’ mark but Brigz Tiu was able to stop the attack with a crucial clear. In the dying minutes of the game, Chris Lawless had a number of attempts to give DLSU its third goal of the match but the ball could not find the back of the net. Once the referee blew the final whistle, that marked the conclusion of a big match that may have determined the fate of this year’s Final Four.
Post game, Smit mentioned that the team just played differently on the attacks, taking advantage of NU’s three defenders to La Salle’s four. “You can see in the second half they [NU] just push up, push up, push up, so we had to rush more on the attack,” he said. Overall, Smit was proud of his team as they gave their all and worked together. “It’s good, I mean you know, after a draw, a win, and another win maybe then we’re good!” As for his expectations on the next game, Smit responded, “Just for the win. We just have to look for the win. As of now we’re not out of the woods yet.”
The Green-and-White will look to clinch a Final Four berth against the UE Red Warriors on Sunday, April 15, 3 pm, at the same venue.