PHL U-23 AZKALS FACE SINGAPORE IN SEA GAMES OPENER
(Jalan Besar Stadium)
8:30 p.m. – Philippines vs. Singapore
SINGAPORE --- The Philippines will be bracing for a hostile crowd as the National Under-23 squad tackles host Singapore to usher in the country’s campaign in 28th Southeast Asian Games at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Monday.
“The boys are physically and psychologically ready for tomorrow’s game,” said head coach Marlon Maro, whose charges will not only be up against the Singaporeans but also their hometown fans, who are expected to fill virtually every nook and cranny of the 6,800-capacity venue.
“Mas marami nga sila but I believe mas malakas at mas maingay ang mga Pinoy,” added the coach, who was hoping that the huge Filipino expatriate community would come out and root for the Nationals at 8:30 p.m. (same time in Manila), opening Group A action in the SEAG football tournament.
The Filipino booters have been here since Tuesday, a day after their last tuneup game where they narrowly lost to top United Football League club Green Archers FC, 2-3, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Maro said that based on what he has seen of the hosts so far “I believe we can match the Singaporeans evenly. We might even be faster than them.”
For extra motivation, Maro shared his own experience with the national team back in the 1991 Manila SEA Games when the Filipinos reached the semifinals of the football competitions for the first time, dropping a 0-2 decision to the Singaporeans, who bagged the bronze medal.
“Sabi nila ‘Wow, coach’ di pa kami ipinapanganak noon. That was 24 years ago and they were not even born yet,” he said.
Maro added that his players had something to prove after some of the eliigibles members of the Philippine Azkals like Kenshiro Daniels, OJ Porteria and Amani Aguinaldo begged off to focus on the PH senior squad’s buildup to its World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain on June 11.
“These boys are hungry. They want to prove something, that they are all deserving to be here,” the coach said. “Gusto nilang mapatunayan na kaya rin nilang maglaro sa bayan.”
Co-skipper Jinggoy Valmayor, who was with the last national Under-23 side that saw action in SEAG soccer tourney in Indonesia four years ago, said the present squad was quite disciplined “at walang pa-istaran”
“Di kami nagpapasikat, di rin kami nagsisisihan sa laro. Buo kami as a team,” added the UP and Pachanga ace.
Valmayor added given this squad's preparations, including a 10-day training camp in Australia two weeks ago, he expected them to exceed the previous outing of their predecessors.
Under German coach Michael Weiss, the PH footballers just had one victory against four losses on the way to being eliminated in the 2011 Indonesia SEA Games.
Top goalie Florencio Baedelic Jr. said that he was thrilled rather than being daunted in seeing action in his first SEA Games.
“Yong pressure, nanduon na yan. Pero gusto ko maipakita sa lahat na kaya ng maglaro kahit saan, pati na sa international,” said Baedelic, 19, who was the goalkeeper when Global FC held Malaysian powerhouse Pahang FC to a scoreless draw on its home pitch in the last AFC Cup.
Besides Valmayor, Maro said that he was banking on striker Paulo Bugas and versatile midfielder Paulo Salenga to spearhead the Philippine attack.
The Singaporeans are led by top forward Irfan Fandi, the son of former Singapore star Fandi Ahmad, who was a member of the Singapore team that relegated the Philippines to fourth place in the 1991 Manila SEA Games.
“Gaining a draw (against Singapore) tomorrow would be good and a victory will be excellent,” said Maro, noting that seven points (two wins and one draw) would be enough for the squad to reach the semifinals in the five-team group.