WAS ready to write off the Philippine team’s campaign in the Suzuki Cup when, as recently as two months ago, I learned the team still had no coach.
The funds mess that the PFF has found itself in, which has resulted to the CFA filing a case of falsification of public documents against the PFF president, also made me wonder if the morale of the RP team has been affected.
I shouldn’t have doubted the squad, thanks to Dan Palami and Simon McMenemy.
While the PFF president was making palami with the perks of his office, Palami, the team manager who’s bankrolling the team, had the Azkals train seriously for the Suzuki Cup qualifiers, not that rushed two-week training the team usually has.
They went to Leyte and when they got McMenemy, had a series of friendlies with Taiwanese teams.
The team’s fighting attitude, so different from the let’s-not-lose-by-much of the past, showed in their 2-2 draw against Laos.
After getting down 2-0, this team, unlike those of yesteryears, fought back.
I saw a clip of that game in YouTube and it makes you proud to be a Pinoy football fan.
After Phil Younghusband (Yep, it’s a weird name but there are Butts and a Buffon in the World Cup) equalized with a penalty in the 74th minute, you could clearly hear one of the Fil-Brits scream:
“WE NEED ONE MORE GUYS!!!”
They got it in the 94th minute. Yep, four minutes past full time.
Showing they were ready to take a gamble, Neil Etheridge, the goalkeeper, took the free kick, just before the halfcourt line.
Etheridge, the former England U16 keeper who’s riding the bench for Fulham FC in the Premier League, connected with James Younghusband, who headed past the Laos keeper for the equalizer.
After that game, the Philippines held Cambodia, 0-0, while Laos beat Timor Leste, 6-1, to take the first qualifier’s spot.
McMenemy credited the team spirit and their hard work for the past 10 months, which was made possible under Palami.
He told affsuzukicup.com. “When I arrived in the Philippines in August, the team’s preparations for the Suzuki Cup were already well under way… what I found was a group of good players who play together but not necessarily for each other. We had to work hard to get the team to gel…But the effort that they put in during the last few days was fantastic and they fully deserved to advance in the competition.”
The last time the Azkals advanced, they got hammered in the finals, losing to Thailand, 4-0, with captain Ali Borromeo getting injured. They also got hammered by Malaysia, 4-0, and a clip of that match was shown on CNN after a striker scored a wonderful bicycle shot.
But in their last game, when they had nothing to gain, they thwarted Myanmar’s dream of a semifinal spot by holding them to a 0-0 draw.
This early, I am upbeat of the RP team’s chances, even if it is in Group A with Vietnam, Singapore and Myanmar. A semifinal spot is unlikely but not impossible.
And I also like McMenemy’s attitude.
“Once we get to the final rounds, every game will be tough. But the tougher the opponents, the more I think the boys can rise to the occasion.”
Now that’s the Azkal spirit.
P.S. What the team achieved in Laos makes you wonder what the boys—or RP football—could achieve had we had a president who is really concerned about the sport, doesn’t it? (Why, you think I could resist letting this one go?)
Sun Star Cebu
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