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Thursday, July 25, 2024

The draw that hurts more than a loss

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The Philippine Azkals drew with Indonesia in a highly-charged game last Tuesday at Rizal Memorial Stadium to end its two-game homestand with a single point out of a possible six.

The Azkals played well for the most part of the first half with seven attempts on target in the first 20 minutes or so, keeping the Indonesian keeper Ernando Ari Sutaryadi busy. Patrick Reichelt eventually scored the breakthrough goal in the 24th minute, giving life to a stadium so much in need of an Azkals’ win.

The second half, however, was quite different. The Azkals’ defense allowed the equalizer, a short stab by Saddil Ramdani in the 70th minute. The Azkals went all out for the lead, but a crossbar and several earlier missed opportunities eventually pegged the score at 1-1.

It was a result that was so painful to accept. Even the Ultras Filipinas, the most solid and rabid among the loyal Azkals’ fans, made sure that their sentiments were made known to the Azkals after the game. A very disappointed and emotional Neil Etheridge returned the favor.

“We gave it everything, we left it all out there, but it wasn’t meant to be. Upset, disappointed but I know that the team gave their all for the country. Sometimes, as we all know, it just isn’t meant to be, but it’s far from over,” the Azkals’ team captain later said in a social media post.

The fans were right to criticize the Azkals, especially those who came to RMS to support the Azkals’ two home games to begin their campaign in the FIFA World Cup2026/AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualifiers. They, too, made the effort to support the team and rally behind the Azkals. They had every right to be disappointed and angry.

The Azkals lost to Vietnam, 2-0, in the opener. Despite this, 9,880 fans were present in the game against Indonesia. After Reichelt’s goal, optimism went off the roof, literally, for an Azkals’ win.

Even I hoped that the Azkals could hold on to the lead and get the win. But as always, the football gods’ cruelty and reality of the game went against our collective prayers.

The fans expected more and despite their efforts, the Azkals fell short. There were comments that we could have won the game if Gerrit Holtman, Sebastian Rasumussen, Raphael Obermair and other missing Azkals were present. Much criticisms, too, were levied against Hans Michael Weiss, head coach of the Azkals and Dan Palami, the team manager. The players, too, took the brunt of the anger and ire of the fans. Everyone, probably, at the stadium was angry and disappointed, including a respectable Indonesian contingent, who made a mighty effort to support their team. The difference was, no matter the result, they backed their team. A fact that is not lost to us on how the Azkals were treated after the game.

Say all you want. The players, who played to a disappointing draw, a hateful point after two games, and who came short to some people, whose standards do not require them to be present at the games, but are so brutal and unforgiving in their comments online, were the ones who fought hard on the pitch. They were the ones, who sacrificed their bodies against the tough and rough game of their opponents. They were the ones, who put their careers on the line. And not those players we keep on looking for, but were not present because of a myriad of reasons. We have a saying “Kung gusto, gagawan ng paraan. Kung ayaw, marami ang dahilan.” So it is what it is.

I can’t fault the fans either. Coach Weiss and the Azkals’ management should now know the limitations of the team and do something about them, like the urgent need for strikers who can deliver the goal in the final third and in crunch time for starters.

Enough of the learning experience please and “bawi tayo sa next game.” Let’s move on, too, from the players who, despite several invitations, refuse to commit to play for the team. The next game is on March 21, 2024 against an undefeated Iraq. There is enough time to scout and bring in new players, those, who are willing, not those “pabebe Azkals wannabe” and especially the ones, who think that playing for the Philippines is the only remaining option to benefit their careers. And lastly, an appeal for those who were helped getting their papers sorted out, like their Philippine passports, please reconsider your “silence.” Your Azkals, your kababayans and most especially your country, need you to play for the sun and the three stars. Please.

Another request, which The Designated Kit Man shares with most ardent fans, who also double as anonymous scouts, let’s start inviting players, who already have Philippine passports. If there are exciting and good potential Azkas out there now, let’s double efforts to get their documents the soonest possible time. And we mean, now!

The Philippine Football Federation should not also lose its faith and support of the national men’s football team. From must win to must watch, I just don’t get the logic behind this edit though, now is the time for the federation to back the team all the way, win or lose.

Speaking of the PFF, it will hold its general elections to replace the great Nonong Araneta as the football chief of the country. Here is hoping that the regional football association presidents will go beyond politics, personal interests and agendas to elect the best candidate for the job and for the future of football in the country. Kaya po ninyo ‘yan!

On a more positive vibe, don’t be surprised if you see three Filipinas in the finals of the VCT Game Changers Championship set to unfold in Sao Paolo, Brazil from November 28 to December 3, 2023. Kelly “Shirazi” Jaudian, Alexandria “Alexy” Francisco and Camille “Kamiyu” Enriquez will join Abigail “Kohaibi” Kong and Odella “Enerii” Abraham as Team SMG Valorant takes on seven other top tier-teams coming from different regions in the battle of the best in Sao Paolo. In a chat with The Designated Kit Man, Shirazi, Alexy and Kamiyu maintained that they are so ready to battle it out against the highly fancied teams and favorites in the tournament and vowed to surprise them in a big way.

Good luck, girls. Laban, Pilipinas!

On a personal note, please join The Designated Kit Man, Chino Trinidad and Cong. Butch Pichay at Larong Pilipino, your weekly sports fix aired live over at DZME 1530 Khz from 2-3.30 p.m. this coming Sunday, November 26, 2023. Former Azkals’ team skipper Misagh Bahadoran will be among our special guests and he will give us an update on what’s keeping him busy after hanging his boots. Several other guests will also join us in the show. See you mga Kalaro!

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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