Before the game against Singapore last Tuesday night in the 2022 TriNations Cup, members of the Philippine Azkals wrote a letter to management regarding their concerns about several members of the team contracting COVID-19 and playing the game in general.
Part of that letter stated: “As players [we] do not feel 100% comfortable with the current situation that is on going within our camp. A COVID-19 outbreak started soon after the game against Malaysia (March 23, 2022) and we as a camp have been unable to contain the spread even after following protocol and doing everything within our power to stop the spread. Players have contracted the virus on different days at different times with no correlation, some testing negative in the morning and positive in the afternoon/evening. This is showing and proving to us that we are in a high risk environment to contract COVID-19.”
Despite their concerns, the Azkals also knew how important the game was.
“Having said that, we understand as players the situation that you may find yourself in with other federations or governing bodies that may want to gain from our current situation. We will fill 11 starting players on the field tonight representing the Philippines and the flag to the best of our ability as we do every game but we thought it would be appropriate for you to understand that we do not feel comfortable being in such a situation going into this friendly game. Players here have taken time away from loved ones and people around them to represent and play for their beloved country. As Pinoys we wear our heart on our sleeves in every situation but in this instance we would like to make ourselves heard in this unusual time we find ourselves in.”
The Philippines showed up with just 15 players, including two who are goalkeepers and two substitutes. Despite playing the final half with just 10 men, they were able to create several chances to score against the host but still they lost the game, 2-0, against the host.
As expected, diehard Azkals fans were disappointed and several more were so angry after the game. Even Azkals’ manager Dan Palami was first to admit that it was not the result that they wanted.
“I understand that. I mean, we are disappointed at that as well. W could have played the roommates of those who were positive and be at the height of irresponsibility, but what will the players and their loved ones say? So, the management and the coaching staff decided, okay we will honour the commitment to play the game tonight. But we will just have to do it with the players that are available. We could have pulled out but Singapore FA was hoping we would really play.
And we have a commitment that we have to honor. It was the courageous choice,” Palami said after the game.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, Palami said the whole team was in isolation for two days before the game againstSingapore. They were not able to hold any practice or team meetings because the players and coaching staff stayed in their rooms as part of the health protocols to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Despite the circumstances and the difficulties they have to endure even before reaching Singapore, Palami was grateful the Azkals played their hearts out in the pitch.
“We’re down to 10 men for most parts of the game. Pero we were still able to create a couple of chances considering Kevin Ingreso was playing center back. Jesse Curran was doing left back for the first time in his life. You have to give credit to the tenacity of OJ Porteria. And then we had new players that we wanted to check further like Harry Föll and then and we didn’t have the subs. We only have to make subs when we saw the players having difficulty breathing,” Palami added.
The coaching staff also had high hopes for the latest additions to the team.
“This camp was supposed to be a preparation for June, but unfortunately with the circumstances of having positive cases, we never got the chance to make the necessary adjustments or actually prepare. We never had the chance, we were cut off by the pandemic and positive cases. So safety first,” he said.
Which leads us to the next logical subject of what will happen now to Azkals’ coach Scott Copper?
“It is very easy to blame the coach of course. When the team wins, it’s the players and when the team loses the coach is always the first one to be blamed. Even if he was not there. Of course we are all always open to what’s best for both coach Cooper and the team. And management have always been talking about what’s good for the team. We will do that what’s necessary,” Palami said.
Palami says he feels for Copper and how the pandemic really affected the momentum of the team.
“He is a person who has the best interest of the team in mind and I actually feel bad for him because the COVID pandemic stopped the momentum that we had when he first came in. We had a draw against China. We had a great game against Syria, we beat Guam. And then when we were about to play in Manila for the home games for the next for the second leg of matches, the pandemic broke out and cut the momentum but even then he never stopped working,” Palami said.
According to Palami, Copper was instrumental in getting Jesse Curran, Gerrit Holtmann, Jesper Nyholm and Jefferson Tabinas to play for the national team.
Copper has a contract with the team until the end of the year. Palami said the team will have a camp in the country from May 30 to June 5. Call-ups will be made for the national training pool before it starts. The team will leave on June 5 for Mongolia to compete in the final qualifier of the 2023 Asian Cup.
Palami remains optimistic that by then, he will have the team he really needs.
Hopefully, we can do that as well when it comes to the future of our country in the next six years. By June, keeping our fingers crossed and choosing the best, we will have the leader we really need.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
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