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Not a Time to Lose the FAITH

It will take a major-major muck up for us to not win the NCAA-South football tournament for high school boys. We had the luxury of a home semi-final match against the First Asia Institute of Technology (FAITH) this morning. I was under the impression that we would be playing the match at FAITH’s bumpy football field; and even announced to the boys yesterday that they would be leaving at 8:30 in the morning. I had a couple of things scheduled for today; so I told the boys I would not be able to travel with them to take pictures.

The venue was clarified as I was on my way home yesterday; so I had to individually text the boys to be at the field by nine this morning. I was happy that I could leave the office after my morning meeting in time to snap the obligatory pictures for posterity.

We had already beaten FAITH in the elimination round; and we all knew we could repeat the feat in today’s semi-final. I had not seen FAITH’s team in action before; but I was told that while its players had decent enough individual skills, the team probably needed to be taught how to use these skills within the context of a match.

That assessment was remarkably accurate. FAITH’s players looked by no means clumsy of the sort one sees in inter-class intramurals; but they also rather tended to play individually and did not know how to make the ball work for them. In the end, the 18-nil scoreline was probably not what the boys deserved from a semi-final match.

Having said that, if you think of things a different way – and particularly since our boys still did not play at the levels I see day in and day out during scrimmage – they still got off lightly, in a manner of speaking. In fact, we were a goal to the good within a mere twenty seconds from kickoff.

Our boys mixed the ball around with crisp one touch ground passes in the middle before releasing speedy winger Ezekiel Terrones down the right flank. His low cross found striker JV Medina, whose shot could only be parried into the path of onrushing Terrones. The latter pounced on the rebound and had it in the net without much fanfare.

In ten minutes, we were up by three. Renz Dimaano, played upfront in the absence of the suspended Enzo Gherardelli, was in incredible goalscoring form. He was scoring goals one after the other that I lost interest in counting altogether. All I know is that by half-time, we were up by 10.

Renz was, of our boys, the only one who was not fussed by the adulation coming from schoolmates out for a PE class who lined the field to watch. But then that is Renz, whose personality is so phlegmatic even the arrival of Jesus Christ Himself for the Second Coming would to fail to rouse him from his languid gait…

Everyone else was suddenly excitable; so that even ten-yard passes were going astray. Although I was standing behind FAITH’s goal taking pictures, I was not amused by what I was seeing. Our game is based on quick short passes so we needed to make use of the width of the field to create spaces for our passes. Because Terrones was spending so much time in-field rather than giving us the width to open up FAITH’s rearguard, I could not resist having a go at him in between snaps with my camera.

Fortunately, Renz was in a merciless mood. I was particularly heartened by the sight of him picking the ball up from inside the goal every time he scored; as though he was in a hurry to get on with it so we could score more. Renz is not normally in a hurry; so the sight of him rushing to retrieve the ball means there is – indeed – a God!

I was happy that Medina got a few goals for himself today. His arrival last year was the transformative moment of his team’s development. Here was the target man who could play with his back to the goal when we had the ball in midfield; and who also had the lethal striker’s instinct when facing goal.

Inexplicably, the lad lost form in the New Year. In training, things get so bad he sometimes even refuses to shoot when presented with gaping goalscoring spaces. All strikers, though, get these blips in form and it is always a matter of time before they get back their predatory instincts.

Make no mistake about it, Medina is as prodigious a talent as this team can ever hope to get. His goals today will do his confidence a lot of good; even if he also had his shooting-at-the-outside moments this morning, one point blank shot missing the post and passing right under my nose. I burst out laughing.

A word about our holding midfielder Luis Canlas… I had been encouraging him to come forward to get goals for himself as early as the first half, when between them Medina and Renz were tearing FAITH apart. Although Terrones got a hattrick for himself today, of the midfield line – Renz Dimaano apart, and he was playing as a striker – Canlas has always been the likely source of a goal.

Not today; and not for want of trying. The lad was getting himself into good goalscoring positions; but either his touch was heavy or his shooting boots were at home. Of our eighteen goals, he laid a big fat goose egg. I just hope his luck turns in Monday’s final against Letran, to be played at the FAITH football field.

[Today's goalscorers: Renz Dimaano 10, Ezekiel Terrones 3, Joseph Victor Medina 4, Alex Hernandez.]

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