The Philippines’ Men’s U-23 National Football Team will begin its campaign in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam against Timor Leste today at the Viet Tai Stadium in the northern midland province of Phu Tho.
As always, the team is looking forward to advance beyond the group stage after more more than three decades of frustration of not being able to contend for a medal in the biennial games.
Just like in the previous games, the U-23 team is stacked against tough teams led by host and defending champion Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Timor Leste in Group A.
To say that the path to the medal round is tough will be an understatement. The game versus Timor Leste is difficult and it will not get easier from there as stronger teams are waiting to pounce on the Filipinos who are coming from the domestic league and a friendly.
After Timor-Leste, the country will face host Vietnam on Sunday, May 8; Myanmar on Tuesday, May 10; and Indonesia on Friday, May 13, to wrap up its group fixtures.
“Our modest aspiration is to win as many games as we can. Of course, Vietnam is there so we have to temper our expectations. Ok naman ang preparation ng team and hopefully, we can make some surprises in the competition,” said Nonong Araneta, the Philippine Football Federation chief.
Araneta said the addition of veteran and Azkals’ icon Stephen Schrock in the team will definitely be an advantage for the young and relatively untested Pinoy side going up against mostly professional players in the region.
Schrock will be suiting up for his second consecutive SEA Games and will bring with him tons of experience and veteran smarts to the team.
“Actually Schrocky (Schrock) brings inspiration to the team. He will be playing for the number 9 position, sa taas, and I think yung skills ni Schrock can be problems to the opposing teams,” Araneta added.
Araneta, however, is not pitting all of his hopes on Schrock alone. He believes the rest of the team will step up to give their all on the pitch.
“Maaganda naman ang preparation ng team. Most of them have played before the under-23 competitions and I have seen them play in the Copa Alcantara. Nakita ko naman ang kakayahan nila, ‘yung fitness nila, ‘yung physical conditioning. They have prepared for the SEA Games with tough games against professional teams in the country. I have high hopes for them,” Araneta explained.
Joining Schrock on the squad are Oliver Bias, Dennis Chung, Miguel Mendoza, Sandro Reyes, Oskari Kekkonen, Scott Woods, James Rosquillo, Matt Ocampo, Quincy Kammeraad, Enrico Mangaoang, Jermi Darapan, Geri Rey, Francis Tacardon, Jayvee Kallukaran, Jacob Peña, Enrique Linares and veteran Jovin Bedic.
“We’ll take it one game a time, but our objective is to be in the semifinals of the SEA Games. I’m very happy to have all the players in the team and having Shrocky on board will help the the team reach our objective,” said head coach Norman Fegidero in a social media post.
Aside from the men’s, the country is also sending its Women’s team in the competitions where the Malditas are no longer considered pushovers owing to their historic feat of qualifying to the Women’s FIFA World Cup next year.
“One step at a time muna for them but goal is to qualify first for the knockout stage. If we qualify for the semifinals, we will probably play against Thailand which we have played before and I believe, mas maganda ang confidence ng women’s team natin,” Araneta said.
The Malditas are also coming from impressive wins in international friendlies against Fiji and Tonga.
The Malditas will play Vietnam on May 9 and Cambodia on May 11 at the Cam Phase Stadium in the northern coastal province of Quang Ninh. Both games will be played at 7 p.m. Vietnam time.
Araneta revealed that the SEA Games is just the start of several months of football frenzy in and out of the country. The PFF president said the preparations are already underway for the Under-19 competitions wherein members of the Under-19 women’s national team, set to compete in Indonesia, will be picked. The PFF will also prepare for the Under-16 tournament, the ASEAN Championships that the country is set to host.
“So far, our friendlies areset for the women’s team on June 16 in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the 24th and the 26th. Preparation namin yan sa AFF Championship and the Asian Games in September,” Araneta revealed.
Aside from the several competitions lined up for the Malditas, the Azkals, too, will seek to book their place in the 2023 Asian Cup in China by joining the third and last leg of the Qualifiers in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia next month.
Along with the domestic league, football is very much alive in the coming months and until the Women’s World Cup next year in Australia and New Zealand.
But first things first. We would like to wish the U-23, the Malditas, the Azkals and the rest of the Philippine delegation to the Hanoi SEA Games that will officially start on May 12 and will run until May 23, 2022 all the luck and best wishes that they will continue to make us proud. May they continue to play to the best of their abilities, with utmost respect for their opponents and the discipline needed to thrive under pressure and circumstances of performing before a hostile crowd.
I also wish for the best for the country as well as we are set to elect our next leader who will steer us in the most important tournament in this crucial period of our history. The next six years is not a game left to chances, petty reasonings, lapses in judgment and wanton disregard of our history. Brain farts, too, are not excusable.
We need and must elect the best possible leaders for our beloved Pilipinas, our future and for our loved ones on Monday.
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
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