Although still a little over 7 weeks away, the SEA Games football tournament is the focus for many of our top footballers at the moment.
The men's side for the biennial event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from August 14 to 29 is an under-22 team. Traditionally the SEA Games has been an under-23 competition but the organizers have decided to knock that back a year this time around. That means some very good Pinoy players are over-age for this tourney and can't play, namely vets from the 2015 edition, goalie Jun Badelic, midfielder Paolo Bugas, and striker Paolo Salenga.
Marlon Maro is once again the coach of the squad, and his side will go through a very thorough preparation period that includes a proper competition before hand.
The team leaves for Japan on July 6 for a week-long camp that will likely involve matches with tough club or school opponents.
Then there will be a trip to Cambodia for Group J of the 2018 AFC U23 championship qualifiers. The Pinoys are in a brutal group with China, Japan, and the hosts Cambodia. This qualifying phase will run from July 19 to 23. There are ten groups and the group winners plus the five best second placers make it through. China are the hosts for the final stage next year but decided to join qualifying even though they are already assured of a slot. If they make it as one of the best second placers or as group champ, the top six second placers proceed.
After that the team will likely stay together for more camps.
There are actually two rosters for this side. The core of 20 players for the SEA Games has already been decided and submitted to the organizers.
That roster includes 3 players from the UAAP champion Ateneo squad, namely Jarvey Gayoso, Rookie of the Year Jordan Jarvis, and Jay-Ra Rocha. Other notables include SEAG vets Ian Clarino, Ace Villanueva and Daniel Gadia from UP, Filipino-Japanese Kouchi Belgira and Yoshiharu Koizumi, and Davao Aguilas striker Kevin De Bruycker, a Filipino-Belgian.
A player to watch will be Cagayan De Oro product Troy Limbo. He is in the youth system of English League Two club Chesterfield and should bring plenty of quality in the flanks.
Maro says that unlike last time, when the deadline for the rosters was much closer to the start of the competition, Malaysia is requesting the team lineups to be submitted two months in advance. There are also only 20 slots instead of the usual 22 or 23. He did say that changes might be allowed in the event of injury.
The coach will be taking along some additional players for the Japan camp, namely JB Borlongan, another UP Maroon, goalie Ronilo Bayan from Kaya Makati FC, Davao Aguilas right back JR Bucayan, Van Rey Diaz formerly of FEU, and ex-Global Mark Winhoffer, a Filipino-American. Sadly it seems these players won't play in the SEA Games.
Centerback Marco Casambre, who made his senior team debut in the Suzuki Cup, is injured and is not part of either roster.
There are a few players in the senior Azkals team who make the age cut off but Luke Woodland, Amani Aguinaldo, and Kenshiro Daniels are not in the line up and thus will miss out on their last chance to play in the SEA Games. The Azkals play Yemen in Bacolod on September 5 and will also have a friendly the week before, so it's very possible that senior team coach Thomas Dooley will want them with his team during the SEA Games.
Maro says the preparation will be much better than in 2015, when he was a late replacement for outgoing coach Jim Fraser. The coach also says the team is more balanced now, meaning there are more players on the roster who are playing in their natural position. In 2015, as Maro tells it, there were too many players who had to play out of position. That team certainly lacked pure defenders.
The coach understands that it will be very difficult to qualify out of the group in Cambodia, but that he welcomes the 3 tough, competitive matches the team will go through.
“What is important is that we will know our strengths and weaknesses,” said the former Navy and national team player.
The women are also in the swing of their preps for the SEA Games. Last Friday they played a friendly against the MSA-Agila U15 boys team and lost 1-0.
Let Dimzon, who leads FEU's ladies team, is the head coach but she is in China at the moment doing a coaching seminar. Ateneo mentor Jaypee Merida, who is an assistant, ran the training match.
A roster list has also been released in the link earlier in the article, but it is unclear if it is final. There are over 30 players in the current pool and Merida says there could be some cuts.
There will be quite a few holdovers from the side that qualified for the 2018 AFC Asian Cup for women recently. Goalie Inna Palacios, centerback Daidai Dolino, Sara Castañeda, Annicka Castañeda, Patrice Impelido, Irish Navaja, and Jovelle Sudaria are the Philippines-based girls who will represent the country again. Filipina-Americans Hali Long, Eva Madarang. And Pat Tomanon, all heroes of the qualification campaign, are also listed and are set to arrive in the Philippines in early July.
Sara Castañeda, the elder of the two sisters and scorer of the tying goal with Bahrain that led to the team securing qualification, is still being eased into training. She has an injured hand.
Two UAAP stars who missed out on the Tajikistan campaign were at the training match on Friday and are listed on the roster, namely Kyra Dimaandal of DLSU and Ateneo's Camille Rodriguez. Both are proven strikers who will test opposing defenses.
According to Pinay Futbol's Mia Montayre, Dimaandal has a very demanding course in DLSU that prevented her from taking days off to play for the WNT in Tajikistan. This time around she is good to go.
According to Merida the side is working on patterns of attack. He says the fitness is still a work in progress for the girls. They have some friendlies lined up including one against National University's newly-created high school boys team. Overseas camps are also being planned.
No doubt the Pinays will have a stiff challenge in the SEA Games. The Philippines is ranked 71st in the world, with 3 ASEAN opponents positioned significantly higher, namely Thailand, (29), Vietnam, (32), and Myanmar, (45). Malaysia is 9 spots behind the Philippines but will have the advantage of playing at home.
Preparation has long been a problem for Philippine national teams of all levels. But since it's the focus for these SEAG squads, hopes are flying for a podium finish. – Rappler.com