Ateneo opens its title-retention bid against Katipunan rival University of the Philippines Thursday in the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Football Tournament at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Blue Eagles and the Fighting Maroons clash in the featured televised match at 4 p.m.
Jarvey Gayoso, Julian Roxas, Rupert Baña and Jeremiah Rocha, key players from last season’s championship run, are gone, as Ateneo hopes to dig deep on its arsenal to remain in the throne.
The Blue Eagles hope to move on without their biggest star Gayoso, a two-time MVP who recently decided to forego his fifth and final year.
In the other nationally-televised game, last season’s runner-up De La Salle and Far Eastern University take the pitch at 1:30 p.m.
King Miyagi has decided to sit out this season to recover from an injury, but UP still has a lot of weapons in its disposal with Dan Saavedra, Miggy Clarino, Christian Lapaz, Orlan Togores, last year’s high school MVP Macky Tobias, and goalkeeper Harrel Dayan leading the charge.
Luke Alleje, Iñigo Herrera, Colin Mercado, William Grierson and Richard Fuentes will be the vital cogs for Ateneo along with its keeper AJ Arcilla.
The Green Archers, who lost to the Eagles in the one-game championship last year that extended their more than two decades of heartbreaks, lost Rookie of the Year winner Shanden Vergara, who went to the United States for better football opportunities.
With a young crew led by Xavi Zubiri and Jovan Marfiga, as well as Jed Diamante’s leadership, De La Salle is still a force to reckon with the acquisition of former high school Best Goalkeeper Jason Blanco and Best Defender French Talaroc from FEU-Diliman.
Gio Pabualan will lead the Tamaraws’ charge.
In other opening day fixtures, University of Santo Tomas and National University collide at 8 a.m., while Adamson University and University of the East duke it out in the 6:30 p.m. nightcap.