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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

High hopes with Saintfiet

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The Tom Saintfiet era in Philippine football has begun. After being formally introduced as the new coach of the men’s national football team last Monday, Saintfiet has started preparations for the crucial games against Iraq next month.

Two days after being given the reins to the national team, formerly known as the Azkals, Saintfiet has invited 34 local-based players to attend the training camp for the forthcoming World and Asian Cup qualifiers.

Among those called include Kevin Ingreso, Arnel Amita, Quincy Kammeraad, and Yrick Gallantes of Taguig FC; Jarvey Gayoso, Marco Casambre, Audie Menzi, Marwin Angeles, Jovin Bedic, Mar Diano and Jhan Melliza of Kaya FC Iloilo; Daisuke Sato and Kurt Talaroc of Davao Aguilas FC-UMak; Jun Badelic, JB Borlongan, Chima Uzoka and Jaime Rosquillo of Dynamic Herb Cebu FC; Troy Limbo and Pete Forrosuelo of United City FC; Hayeson Pepito of Stallion Laguna FC; and free agents Dylan de Bruycker, Justine Baas and Miguel Mendoza.

Also receiving their invites are Jeremi Darapan, Karl Absalon, Martini Rey, Marc Joseph Alapoon and Selwyn Mamon of the Far Eastern University; March Jessar Tobias, Ramil Bation lll and Francis Tacardon of the University of the Philippines; Dov Cariño and Leo Maquiling of Ateneo de Manila University.

In a video released by the Philippine Football Federation, Saintfiet said he is very happy to start work immediately with the national team and had a good impression with those who were during the first training day.

“It was good to see a mix between experienced players, who have already played in the national team and young players even on university level. A very good first impression, very motivated guys. And now we have to build on it. We have to give them confidence, we have to guide them and that they can grow for future tasks,” Saintfiet said.

Saintfiet is no stranger to building things from scratch. Prior to his appointment, he was the former national coach of Gambia. From being football minnows in the continent, Saintfiet guided Gambia to its first ever appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2021 despite being the lowest-ranked country in the tournament.

Despite this, Gambia unexpectedly overachieved, reaching as far as the last eight of the competitions. He resigned his post after Gambia failed to advance in the knockout phase of the 2023 AFCON.

Prior to his spell in Gambia, the Belgian had stops in Qatar, Germany Faroe Islands, Finland, Jordan, the Netherlands, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Malawi, Togo, Nigeria, Malawi, Yemen, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, and Malta. He has also an intensive experience in running football clubs. Saintfiet also survived a near-death experience while on board a flight with the Gambia national team on their way to Ivory Coast.

With the Philippines, Saintfiet faces a challenge similar to what he has faced in the past – to bring back another national side to respectability and relevance despite being a basketball crazy nation – a task he is not shirking from.

“I’m looking forward here to achieve together, with all football-loving people, new heights. I know the Philippines already had a great history in football. We have a bright future ahead,” he said. “We are motivated, we are going to work hard, surrounded by fantastic staff, surrounded by fantastic players and a great federation.”

Saintfiet also asked fans to support the team in its pursuit of its goals.

From what I heard, Saintfiet is also now in contact with several foreign-based players who can possibly join the squad against the Iraqis, who are the favorites to win the group. These players include high profile ones who have been invited in the past but have yet to play or return to the team as well as new faces.

As always, hopes are high whenever a new coach comes in to call the shots for the national men’s football team. There is always that energy and good vibes that things will be better for the team. The arrival of Saintfiet is no different. The expectations are high and the excitement from what he is going to bring to the team is equally enormous.

The fact that he will have someone to screen players, who can play for the national team based on merits is a good move towards the right direction. Saintfiet’s reputation of finding the right players is also a big plus. I just hope that he can assemble a fighting squad against Iraq.

We wish Coach Tom all the best, especially in the games against Iraq in an away game in Basra on March 21 and at home at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on March 26, 2024. May your presence provide the calm, direction and the stability that the team needs.

Please join us this Sunday, from 2 to 3.30 p.m. for another episode of Larong Pilipino sa DZME. Junior Karter of the Year Ryan Sy will join us live on the show.

The Designated Kit Man and my co-host Chino Trinidad will also dissect the so-called Disaster In Tokyo! What happened to former world champion Jerwin Ancajas in the fight he was confident to win?

Updates on what awaits the Philippine National Men’s Basketball in the next round of qualifiers to the 2024 Paris Olympics and other interesting topics will also be discussed.

Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!

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


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