The University of the Philippines women’s football team punched a ticket to the PFF Women’s Cup 2022 final after outlasting powerhouse Kaya FC-Iloilo in a pulsating penalty shootout, 5-4 last Sunday.
Although it was reserve Jazzy Borra who scored on the conversion that sent the Fighting Maroons to the championship match, a save by goalkeeper Coline Acelo against Inna Palacios also proved crucial.
Acelo precisely guessed and timed Palacios’ attempt, deflecting it as she dove to her left. At that point, UP and Kaya were tied at four goals apiece, before Borra was assigned to take the eventual game-winner.
The fourth-year Sports Science student went on to share how “kilig” she felt as she went toe-to-toe against no less than a national team mainstay.
“I should have been thrilled when I blocked that shot, but I hid my emotions until Jazzy scored. I was genuinely grateful and delighted I won that game,” shared Acelo.
“I’m just happy that I stayed composed throughout the game. I didn’t let my nerves affect my game. I stayed put.”
UP and Kaya played to a nil-nil battle after regulation and extra time, sending the match into penalties where Acelo and the rest of the Fighting Maroons made their mark.
“I was delighted with the outcome. After two hours of play, we managed to reach the final,” added the 23-year-old goalkeeper.
“Kaya was in control of that match, but we’re just grateful that we are able to defend and be compact and organized.”
Throughout the tournament, the shot-stopper has usually been head coach Anton Gonzales’ second-choice goalkeeper, which is why Acelo was surprised when UP’s long-time tactician opted to start her in the knockout semifinals.
“The week before, I didn’t really expect to be the first keeper so I really didn’t think about Kaya in-depth. I was shocked that Coach Anto picked me to start. His trust in me was overwhelming,” shared Acelo.
It was UAAP veteran Roxy Eduave who used to start in several of UP’s fixtures not only in the PFF Women’s Cup, but even in seven-a-side tournaments.
“She already played in the UAAP and I believe she’s stronger and more experienced,” said Acelo of her fellow goalkeeper.
“That’s why I didn’t know how to feel when Coach Anto selected me to start against Kaya. I thought, ‘Was he sure about this?’”
-- Signature moment in young career --
A native of Cagayan de Oro City, Acelo represented Northern Mindanao (Region 10) in the Palarong Pambansa along with Eduave during their high school days.
She went on to enroll at the Philippine Military Academy, before transferring to Diliman after one year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic took away her UAAP playing years, which is why the PFF Women’s Cup became a boost for her developing career.
Before staying in Manila, Acelo was already acquainted with Palacios’ reputation.
“I always hear about her. Everyone always talks about her when you talk about Filipina goalkeepers. She’s great, and she’s a role model for everyone – myself included,” spoke Acelo of the former two-time UAAP women’s football Best Goalkeeper.
“Sadly, I never had the opportunity to talk to her or meet her personally before this tournament.”
Getting the crucial stop against Palacios with stakes that high proved to be a signature moment of Acelo’s young and still developing career, as she bested a household name in the Philippine women’s football scene.
“Obviously, as someone who plays for UP, you dream of being a great goalkeeper in the UAAP and a national team player,” she added.
Acelo went on to take a picture with Palacios after the moment.
Ahead of the final on Saturday against FEU, Acelo hopes UP can sustain the momentum they garnered from taking down a women’s football giant and remain inspired as they go for the crown.
“The experience playing with Kaya FC, it’s a huge confidence booster for us because it’s not every day you get to face a team of their level. We learned a lot of lessons from a formidable opponent,” she closed.