Let the U23 Azkals Play: an Open Letter to the PSC and POC
Dear honorable Mr. Richie Garcia and honorable Mr. Peping Cojuangco,
It has come to our attention that the Philippine Mens and Womens Football teams, as well as the Futsal squads, will no longer be permitted to join the Philippine delegation for the 2013 South East Asian Games in Myanmar.
We have been made to understand that your good offices only wish to send gold and silver medalist contenders to the Games, and that the Philippine delegation should not exceed 200 members. Considering the U23 team in 2011 finished last in their group, it is understandable that you would be hesitant to field the team.
But we urge you to reconsider your stand.
Firstly, the team (at least the Mens U23 Football team, as far as I know), already has sponsors. The POC and PSC will not need to shell out money to support this team. Bringing them to Myanmar will not deprive any other worthy athletes of any slots. It seems to make more sense to use the number 200 as a reference for athletes and teams which you will support financially. Those sports who have financial backing should not be a part of the 200.
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Secondly, there is great excitement and anticipation among Philippine sports fans for this team. There are no competitions scheduled for the senior Azkals squad until the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. This is all we have for this year.
You infer that this team has no chance for a Silver or Gold medal. I must respectfully counter that argument in two ways.
Football is a strange and unpredictable game. That is just the nature of the sport, especially in a format such as the SEA Games, where there is a group stage followed by a knockout phase.
I like to call Football an underdog’s game. In 2011 Vietnam, one of the favorites, were unable to make the podium. In the 2012 Suzuki Cup Singapore, a major outsider, won the trophy.
No team can be guaranteed a Silver or Gold in Football. Not even Thailand, who have won SEA Games Football gold more times than any other ASEAN nation. Even if we improve drastically over the next few years, we cannot say a silver or gold is a shoo-in.
But having said that I must stress that this is a pretty darn good Football team. They may not be one of the favorites but no one will be taking them lightly.
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A few weeks ago our U23 team played its first real match, a friendly against Singapore’s U23 team. Many expected a blowout loss, especially since the game was in Singapore. Plus, several key players, namely Jeffrey Christiaens, OJ Porteria, Manny Ott, his brother Mike, Jason DeJong, Marwin Angeles, and Marvin Angeles were unable to make the trip because of club commitments.
To make matters worse, the coach, the vastly experienced Scotsman Brian Reid, was absent from the sidelines because he was busy coaching Global in the UFL.
And yet the Philippines, fielding many second-stringers, only lost the game 1-0. Incredible considering they had only recently been put together. On the other hand Singapore featured many experienced players, like the goalscorer Safuwan Baharuddin, and goalie Izwan Mahbud, who both were part of the senior Singapore team that won the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
The core of this Singapore U23 team is a club called LionsXII. The Football Association entered them in the Malaysian Super League, that country’s highest tier. Lions XII is on the verge of winning that competition.
It is important to note that our entire defense that day was born and raised in the Philippines and represents Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Goalkeeper Patrick Deyto and right back Nathan Octavio are from Metro Manila, left back Ronnie Aguisanda is from Tuguegarao, Cagayan province, center back Boiboi Fernanndez is from Victorias, Negros Occidental, and the other centerback, Amani Aguinaldo, is a proud Davaoeno.
This team has massive potential. The holdovers from 2011 are two years older and wiser now. Other exciting new players are in the mix. A medal is a realistic goal.
The team will be better prepared, since there are plans for a training camp in Italy in August. Apart from mentoring from Reid, the boys are also receiving quality supplementary coaching from Nike Total Football, a company based in Japan. Other friendlies, including another game against Singapore, have been scheduled.
In 2011 preparations were hasty, and it showed on the pitch. This year things are different.
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You may not believe in this team’s chances, but hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of Pinoy Football fans think otherwise. So do the sponsors who are willing to stake millions on the squad.
The team’s number one fan, Dan Palami, says it best.
“To exclude a sport that is proving to be the fastest-growing sport in the country would be a tragedy. The Azkals are coming from back-to-back appearances in the Suzuki Cup, and are poised to claim the top spot in South East Asia in the FIFA rankings – a testament to the improvements made over the past years. And if we are not dipping into the PSC budget for this anyway, why hold back?”
“I have high hopes that our sports leaders are rational enough to see the big picture” he adds.
Palami is also correct on that point. We must think long-term. Maybe this team will not bring home the gold now. But these players will be our our senior Azkals going forward. They need to be tested in the crucible of international play for them to develop to their full potential. Joining the SEA Games is a vital part of the growth of our national team, and Football as a whole in this nation.
It has also been surmised that our withdrawal from Football is a way of punishing Myanmar for their egregious inclusion of obscure sports just to pad their chances of medalling. That is poor of the hosts, but when we do punish Myanmar in this way, our sportsmen also suffer collateral damage.
I beg and plead for you to let these fine young men (and women as well, if you include the womens teams), represent the nation in Myanmar. If they are denied this chance to bring glory to the country in a sport that Pinoys have fallen hard for, then our hearts will truly be broken.
Everybody loses by withdrawing them from the Myanmar SEA Games. The players lose, the coaches lose, the fans lose, the sponsors lose, even the game in the Philippines will lose. The PSC and POC also lose because the public’s faith in them will be greatly eroded. Even our opponents, denied one game each due to our absence, will lose.
Who wins when we leave them off the delegation? Nobody.
Mr. Garcia, it was a delight to finally meet you in the Hall of Fame launch. My father always speaks of you highly, as does everyone I talk to involved in sports here. Mr. Cojuangco, I have not had the pleasure of making your acquaintance but I can see by your long years of service that you have only the best interests of the nation at heart.
On behalf of the entire Philippine Football community I respectfully ask both of you to please allow our Football teams to play in Myanmar. For the sport, for the nation, for each and every one of us.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333