Three days before they take on Timor Leste to open their campaign in the 2022 AFF U-23 Youth Championship in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, an undermanned Philippine side is still bent on making an impression in the tournament despite missing several players due to various reasons.
Head Coach Stewart John Hall says the boys’ attitude have been fantastic and they are really trying their best to learn everything the soonest possible time.
“We’re blessed with goalkeepers and full backs. And wingers you know, we’re blessed. We were just a little bit short, positionally on center backs and strikers so because of the people who were not able to come, We’ve been trying and we’ve been looking at players to play in different positions, and we’ve been doing a lot of work. We’re a little bit short in the strikers department. We’ve got 18-year-old center backs come in and 18-year-old strikers have come in to bridge the gap. So again, it’s about how quickly they learn. You know, it’s about how quickly these young players learn because those young players gonna play a part in the tournament,” he explained.
But if you will ask his sentiments on the U-23 Suzuki Cup, he remains consistent with his point that also applies to the national seniors team, the Philippine Azkals.
“I need to make a point. The Suzuki Cup does not help Philippines because it’s outside of the FIFA windows. And we have the majority of players who are outside of the Philippines. So what it means is, when we went to Singapore, for the Suzuki Cup with the seniors, there were about 25 players missing because their clubs wouldn’t release them. Now, we’ve got exactly the same here for the under 23. We’ve got about 20 players missing. Some are not here because of an injury or with COVID. We’ve got a few very exciting players who were waiting for their passports to be cleared. But a lot of them are not here because their clubs wouldn’t release them,” he lamented.
Unlike other countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore which have most of their players at home, most of the country’s players are abroad. Hall is quick, however, to say that there are two ways to look at the Suzuki Cup.
“It puts us at a disadvantage at the senior level and under-23. So we have to do what we have to do, which I’m sure you understand this, what we are doing with it is, we are using it for mainly local players and as a development tournament,” he said. “t’s a fantastic opportunity for some of the local players to to make a name for themselves.”
But instead of using this as an excuse, Hall is making sure that what the players may lack in preparation and other factors, they have more when it comes to why they are in Phnom Penh and what the tournament can do for them.
“I think and it’s also a great motivation for the team. We come here as underdogs, if you like, can we excel? Can we show what we’ve come with?
We have brought a lot of players born in 2002 and 2003 from the local league from universities, you know, so we’ve got players who are going straight from university football into international football, you know, which is a big jump but we are also using this tournament as as a development tournament for mainly for local players,” Hall explained.
He has another way of motivating his players by pointing them to the Philippine Azkals.
“There’s no reason why you can’t be in the senior team because that’s where we are at the moment. It is on a rebuild process because of the normal ageing process with some of the players. I mean, we’ve got we’ve got 34-35 year olds in the senior squad who haven’t played a game of football for the last three months. The opportunity for the young players to play for. It’s all there,” he explained.
He is also optimistic that when the time comes, the players will answer the challenge.
“The attitude of the players has been very good. You know that at the end of the day, football is all about the players and it is all about what happens on the field and our attitude. The players attitude in training team meetings, in everything has been excellent. That always gives you a chance. it always gives you a chance. We’re working really really hard on team spirit and togetherness and are really proud to wear the Philippine flag and represent the Filipino people.
As of writing, these are the players now in Cambodia who are most likely form the squad that will compete in the tournament.
The posts will be manned by Quicy Kammeraad, Enrico Mangaoang and Jessie Semblante with midfielders Oliver Bias, Dennis Chung, Kieran Hayes, Jacob Francis Maniti, Griffin McDaniel, Antoine Ortega, Nathan Rilloraza, Sandro Reyes, Oskari Kekkonen, Pocholo Bugas, Mariano Suba Jr., Matt Lancelot Ocampo, Jacob Agustin Peña, Scott Philip Woods. Forwards Ivan Ouano and Andres Aldeguer are also on the team with Miguel Mendoza, David Setters, Gyles Lucas Encabo, Jaime Rosquillo, Elijah Jacob Liao and Jayvee Kallukaran.
Hall says the Malditas’ exploits in the recently concluded 2020 AFC Women’s Asian Cup is also keeping the boys pumped at and are looking forward to go beyond the group stage.
“We are proud to represent the country and to do well for the country. And obviously, we want the fans to be proud of the tea, to support the team and I would like the fans to know that this is very much a young developmental squad with mainly local players but we have faith in them. And we want the fans to have faith in them as well,” Hall added.
Here is hoping that we will have another football reason to celebrate this February. Just keep the faith and the prayers, too.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!