By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - Amid sports officials’ inclination to
prioritize individual bets over team sports in the coming Southeast
Asian Games, the Philippine Football Federation will bat for the
participation of its under-23, women’s and futsal teams in the Myanmar
PFF general-secretary Ed Gastanes said the Azkals U-23, the Malditas
and the futsal squads are all vigorously preparing for the tourney and
insisted they deserve to compete in the SEAG.
“Our under-23 is fairly strong, it is stronger than the team two
years ago. We have at least seven Azkals national team players and we
have good additions. We even formed the nucleus of the team earlier than
usual, six months before competition which gives them enough time to
prepare,” Gastanes told The STAR.
Handled by a dedicated coaching staff led by coach Brian Reid, the
U23 squad had played the Singapore U-23 in Singapore last week to
jumpstart their SEAG buildup, dropping a 0-1 decision.
“They lost by the smallest of margin to a team whose core played for
Suzuki Cup champion Singapore and the Lions XII club, the No. 1 team in
the M-League (Malaysian League). And the Azkals players were not even
there yet,” Gastanes stressed, adding that local and foreign camps are
in the pipeline for the U-23, including a return match against Singapore
U-23 at home.
The Malditas, for their part, have been making steady progress in
women’s play. After a solid performance in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup
qualifiers in Bangladesh last month, the Malditas accounted for the
biggest move in rankings in the International Football Federation
monthly rankings for June. The Filipinas have shot up to 76th.
“The women’s team made a good showing in the Asian Cup qualifiers,
losing only to Thailand in a very close game, 0-1, and beating Iran, a
strong women’s team, 6-0. They are ranked 76th in the world now and 34th
in Asia,” Gastanes said.
The futsal teams, he said, are currently conducting tryouts.
Football teams’ participation in the SEAG are up in the air as the
Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission lean
towards sending a “lean team” to Myanmar, with bulky teams not given
much priority. National Sports Associations must convince the two bodies
that their teams are good for gold or silver at least to make the
Malditas coach Ernie Nierras, meanwhile, said they are looking for
other ways to stay competitive and continue their progress in case they
would miss out on the SEAG.
“If PSC pushes through with this, it will be our third time missing
the SEAG. Regardless the Malditas have progressed. As much as we would
like to represent the country, we cannot force the issue. What we can do
is create a tournament that will coincide with the SEAG. Invite teams
that will help improve our ranking and improve our competitiveness,”
He added that they are “already in the planning stages for an
international tournament in December. “We will be inviting Chinese
Taipei, Hong Kong and Guam. All non-SEAG teams. We plan to make this an
annual event. This will give us 2 major tournaments every year.”
The Malditas are eyeing friendlies against Haiti in August before
plunging into action in the Asean Football Federation Women’s
Championship in Mandalay, Myanmar from Sept. 9-22. The Pinays are
bunched in Group B with Japan’s U23 team, host Myanmar, Laos and