The country’s under-23 national team competing in the 31st Southeast Asian Games will have a tall order to end 31 years of frustration in football competitions of the biennial games.
They need to beat powerhouse Indonesia as they wrap up their campaign in Group A.
Head Coach Norman “Noy” Fegidero Jr. said despite the defeat against Myanmar last Tuesday, the team remains focused on their date with history at the Viet Tai Stadium in Phu Tho later at 4 p.m., Vietnam time or 5 p.m. Manila time today.
“We will use the same approach na ginawa natin against Vietnam. Ang Indonesia kasi malakas din. We need to contain them in the first half, more on the defensive tayo then we will go for the counter attack in the final half,” Fegidero said.
-Fegidero is realistic that beating Indonesia will be hard but not entirely impossible to do so. Indonesia won the silver medal in the 2019 SEA Games in Manila.
“Sinasabi ko parati may chance, hindi nawawala yun as long as positibo tayo at gusto talaga natin manalo. Kung titingnan mo ang team ng Indonesia matagal na silang magkakasama. Well experienced din sila—some of them played abroad at sa domestic league nila. Tayo three months lang magkakasama ang mga players natin. Malaking factor yun but because of the determination and the desire of the players na makapasok sa semifinals, yan yung kagandahan as team natin. And I believe that in football, there is always an upset,” he added.
The team has already accomplished an upset early in the tournament. After beating Timor Leste, 4-0, in their opening match, the U-23 squad held the host to a 0-0 draw last Sunday, May 8, to end string of losses to the regional powerhouse in the biennial games. The Philippines even had a chance to beat the host in first half but the opportunity was not converted. But again the result was very important and almost unexpected.
“I was in Hanoi in 2010 when we be beat Vietnam—the miracle in Hanoi. Ngayon lang ulit naka-draw ang team, after 12 years ngayon lang tayo ulit nakapuntos sa Vietnam,” Josef Malinay, team manager of the U-23, said.
While not taking away credit from the Myanmar side, both Fegidero and Malinay noted that the schedule given by the organizing committee to the Philippines and Timor Leste put both teams at a disadvantage. Both squads are about to end their campaign in the group stage while the rest of the teams will be just playing their third games.
The Philippines, for example, will play its fourth game in just eight days while Indonesia will play its third match in as many days. Host Vietnam has only played two games so far as of Wednesday.
“Tayo lang at Timor Leste ang binigyan ng ganiyan schedule. Kahit si Schrocky (team captain Stephan Schrock) said it is crazy. Hindi dapat ito nangyayari sa football especially sa Southeast Asian Games. ‘Yung schedule every 40 hours may game tayo. ‘Yung game natin sa Vietnam naubos talaga ‘yung mga players. ‘Yung sa second half against Myanmar, lumamang pa tayo pero sa second half halos nakatayo na lang mga players natin,” Fegidero said.
“‘Yung talaga ang biggest challenge namin dito, yung recovery ng mga players. One day is not enough for professional athletes to recover. Kahit saan ka magpunta, wala ka makikita na team na maglalaro ng three games in five days,” Malinay added.
The schedule has affected greatly the team’s performance against Myanmar, its third game in just five days.
“Kaya super happy ako sa mga players ginagawa ng mga players natin. Nandoon ang puso, ayaw talaga magpatalo.
Kasi ‘yung mind set namin, one game at a time ‘yung approach na makapasok talaga sa semifinals,” Fegidero explained.
Aside from a piece of history, personal goals are also at stake in the sidelines—especially for a player who seeks respect and recognition for a team that has been the favorite whipping boy in the SEA Games.
Coach Noy was part of the last Philippine side that was able to compete for a medal in the football competitions of the SEA Games. It was in the 1991 Manila SEA Games that the men’s team came the closest for a podium finish. The team eventually finished fourth in the competitions, losing to Singapore, 2-0 in the bronze medal match. Since then, no other team has progressed into the knockout matches.
Fegidero, as the coach, said they have one last opportunity to do this and make his dream of leading another Philippine side to the semifinals.
“Parati ko sinasabi sa kanila na may chance sila na sundan ang ginawa namin noon, Ito ang opportunity nila, ” he added.
Fegidero gave the team a well deserved rest last Wednesday to help them recuperate and prepare for their most important game yet in the tournament. This is the longest rest between games for the Pinoy squad.
Moving forward, Fegidero is hoping that after Hanoi, the U-23 team for the next SEA Games will be immediately formed to give the team more time to prepare and jell – a move seconded by Malinay.
“We were just given three months to prepare after more than two years of no football in the country. Sobrang hirap lalo na yung mga players natin na nasa sa mga probinisya. From zero football activity tapos going to the highest level in the region. For athletes na mabakante lang ng one week ang layo na agad ang hahabulin sa fitness and conditioning at lalo na ‘yung level of competition,” Malinay explained.
On the good side, Malinay said that so many players have the potential to form the core of the team that will compete in the Suzuki Cup later this year. But first, the team need to play their best, again, against Indonesia.
In the women’s side, the Philippines dropped a close 2-1 match against host Vietnam two nights ago.
“We may have a little bit of fatigue and getting nerves playing in front of such a big crowd but I thought at the beginning we were the better team, and then at the last 10-20 minutes, we were the better team again,” Coach Alen Stajcic said after the game.
But despite losing the close match, the Filipinas are still on the hunt for a spot in the semifinals after posting a 1-1 win-loss slate in the group stage, unless Cambodia beats the host 4-0 in the last game of Group A.
Here’s to hoping that history will be altered in the next few days and the football gods will smile on our teams. Same wish for the country as well.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
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