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Friday, July 26, 2024

Miracle in Manila?

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After their practice last Wednesday night, the mood in the Philippine Azkals’ camp is somewhat subdued – their calm demeanor probably hid whatever apprehensions they have against a formidable opponent. Somewhere, however, there is a positive vibe among the players after an hour of practice at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Saw again several familiar faces that had been on the team since The Designated Kit Man started covering them on a regular basis. And some old friends, too, like Daisuke Sato, Dennis Villanueva and Patrick Deyto from the old Global FC team.

As the Azkals wrapped up their final scrimmage before their opening game in the FIFA World Cup2026/AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualifiers, their opponents, the highly-favored Vietnam team, made its way to the pitch.

There were some token smiles, but that was it. No small talks. No good to see you again sort of vibes. Just business.

The Azkals knew how important the opening game was and seeing the highly-fancied Vietnamese side somehow made it even tougher to entertain a good result, which we will know by the time this piece gets printed or posted on the online version of the Manila Standard.

And who can fault the Azkals amid the daunting task of beating Vietnam? The Philippines has not beaten the regional powerhouse in their last five games. The most recent was a 1-0 win by Vietnam in a December friendly last year, not to mention earlier pronouncements by the visitors that they are coming to Manila to gain the full three points as Group F action in the second round of qualifiers begins.

For Coach Hans Michael Weiss, the ball is round, anything can happen in a football game, and yes, hope is always there.

“I’m very happy with the performance of the team in the last three days. We put more intensity despite the training being short. Everybody is training very hard and is pushing in the same direction. We are very positive,” Weiss said.

He likewise maintained that despite many high-profile Azkals missing a day before the big game against Vietnam and the unrelenting criticisms over the team’s lineup, he liked what he was seeing in his squad.

“They don’t know what’s going on inside (the team) and we do the things that we can do. What we have is already very good. We want young players. We have players that can be stronger in the future. We want that and we are working on it,” he explained.

While the odds are stacked against the Azkals, Weiss said the team will definitely give a strong performance against Vietnam. He is also excited to see a packed Rizal Memorial Stadium after the Philippine Football Federation called on at least 10,000 fans to watch the game.

“It is going to be very, very nice to see a full stadium for the first time after several years. We will be very happy too to see thousands of Azkals fans back to watch us live. And for those who will watch the game on TV or on livestream, please cross your fingers and say a prayer for the team because we will put on a good game,” he added.

Even Dan Palami, Azkals’ Team Manager, shares Weiss’ optimism. He is also aware of the significance of the game for a team that is seeking to be more relevant and to be on the winning side on the scoreline.

“It is really important and the players know that. The coaching staff knows that. The management knows that, too. We are going into that and the spirit of the team is very vibrant,” Palami said.

When asked about his team’s chances, Palami had this to say: “We always have a fighting chance. We have done our homework. The team will create chances. I think we could surprise them.”

Fans can also surprise the Azkals by showing up not only against Vietnam but in the game versus Indonesia as well. No arguments here. Let’s be present and rally behind our Azkals for real these two days of November. We have a good lineup, despite the absence of fan favorites, the mix of veterans and upcoming great Azkals brings so much hope. The young ones will definitely learn a lot from the “Kuyas” in the team. And for those who always complain and put the team down because their favorite players are missing and nowhere to be found, get over it. At the end of the day, they were the ones, Stephan Schrock included, who answered the call and chose to be present when the sun and three stars needed them. This is the only thing that matters now.

And if possible, a miracle in Manila perhaps? Laban, Azkals!

Special shoutout to the Don Bosco Technical College for sweeping its first three games in the High School Football Division of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Incorporated. The Greywolves tow the four-team field with 9 points after blanking Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu (SDC-AdC), 8-0 and University of San Carlos (USC), 4-0.

DBTC-Cebu has conceded just one goal in the first round so far with a 4-1 win over University of San Jose Recoletos (USJ-R).

SDC-AdC is second with a 1 win, 1 loss and 1 draw slate and 4 points, while USC is in third with 2 points. USJ-R is in fourth with a single point.

At least seven Greywolves have scored a goal or two after the first three games. With the way they have stamped their class so far, DBTC-Cebu is the clear favorite to win the title. Thank you, Rafael Pagaura for the assist!

Let’s go, Greyhounds!

Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!

For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at erel_cabatbat@yahoo.com or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat

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