The Philippine National Under-22 and national women’s squads, hoping to get an advantage from the hometown crowd, begin their campaign Monday at the start of 30th Southeast Asian Games football championships at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila and Binan Stadium in Laguna, respectively.
Led by Azkals skipper Stephan Schrock, one of two senior players allowed on the PH Under-22 squad, the Pinoy booters open their Group A campaign against Cambodia at 8 p.m. following the match between between Malaysia and Myanmar at 4 p.m. in the same group.
The Malditas, as the women’s squad is known, face a tough challenge in powerhouse Myanmar in the 8 p.m. nightcap in Group A after the Group B match featuring Vietnam and defending champion Thailand at 4 o’clock.
“We will take it one match at a time,” said Serbian coach Goran Milosevic, who took over the reins of the National Under-22 squad last August composed of a blend of Fil-foreigners and homegrown talents, of his approach to the competition.
“The first game is always very important and if they follow our instructions and give their best, our boys can win,” added the ex-national team player under the former country of Yugoslavia, speaking through his compatriot and assistant coach Ramadani Rezidrdan-Kiza.
“The quality that these coaches bring (to the team) is making a huge difference. Their dedication has been excellent and has impacted our players,” praised Stallion FC coach Ernie Nierras, who is also a member of the coaching staff. “They based their selection on talent, skill and merit.”
Kiza, who was also Milosevic’s teammate top clubs such as Red Star and Partizan Belgrade, said that they also stressed the proper attitude as a key criteria in selecting the players “because we cannot afford ones with big heads.”
Milosevic said he was grateful that midfield maestro Schrock had volunteered to beef up the Under-22 side.
“He (Schrock) commands a lot of respect among our players so we are grateful he was willing to joins us as far back as three months ago,” he bared. “He is a like a coach on the pitch and can execute our ideas; he is one of the best players in Asia.”
Both Serbian mentors also cited veteran defender Amani Aguinaldo, the team’s other senior reinforcement, who is expected to add spine to the back row.
“Aguinaldo is a veteran and very professional player. He will strengthen our back row,” Kiza pointed out. “He is able to do the little things and was outstanding in the scoreless draw against China.”
When asked how improved his charges were since he handled them more than two months ago, Milosevic replied: “We will see just how much when we play Cambodia on Monday.”
For the national women’s coach Marnelli Dimzon, reversing the result the last time they met the Burmese in the AFF women’s football championships last August in Chonburi, Thailand is foremost on her mind.
“We were able to keep pace with Myanmar in the first half but we broke down in the second half because we lacked the stamina,” said Dimzon of her ward’s 0-3 loss to the squad in the battle for third place in the tournament.
She said that they were able to do some refinement during the squad’s recent training in Japan where they played against top collegiate and commercial teams.
“There was marked improvement with every match we played,” said Dimzon of the overseas stint backed by the Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Football Federation.
The return of Fil-Ams Sarina Bolden and Eva Madarang, who missed the AFF women’s tourney, was expected to add teeth to the Malditas’ attacks and make it an even competitive match against Myanmar, according to the coach.