The Philippine Football Federation has released its 26-man lineup for the country’s opening two games for the FIFA World Cup2026/AFC Asian Cup 2027 Preliminary Joint Qualifiers on Nov. 16 and 21 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Those invited to join the national training pool include goalkeepers Neil Etheridge, Kevin Ray Mendoza and the in-form Patrick Deyto. Joining them in the camp are Carli De Murga, Jefferson Tabinas, Christian Rontini, Jesse Curran, Daisuke Sato, Santiago Rublico and Dennis Villanueva.
Ageless Simone Rota led a strong contingent of Kaya FC Iloilo players in the call up along with Audie Menzi, Justin Baas, Marwin Angeles and Jesus Melliza. Pocholo Bugas, Manny and Mike Ott, Kevin Ingreso, Patrick Reichelt, Bienvenido Marañon, Kenshiro Daniels and OJ Porteria also got the invites.
From the initial list that The Designated Kit Man was able to see, Simen Lyngbo and Oskari Kekkonen were the latest to be added in the squad. And of course, “El Capitan” Stephan Schrock is the 26th man on the list.
Missing are fan favorites Gerrit Holtmann, Sebastian Rasmussen, John-Patrick Strauss, Raphael Obermair, Joshua Grommen and a few more. This is no longer surprising considering that most of them are injured, have club duties or are unavailable due to personal reasons.
Equally expected are the rash of comments regarding the composition of the Azkals invited to take on Vietnam and Indonesia in the next two weeks. Sana kung gaano kayo ka-passionate sa kakamura at kakabash sa team, ganu’n din kayo ka-invested bumili ng ticket at manood ng game. Du’n niyo ibuhos ang galit ninyo. If not, just support and pray for the success of the squad despite the challenges and its limitations.
While it is very easy to say that the squad should include this player and the ones playing in foreign leagues, there are many reasons why they will not be present in Manila when the training camp opens on the 12th. Again, injuries and other reasons. Just wondering what their agents have to say about their absence in the camp.
On to a feel-good and inspiring story, the other night The Designated Kit Man had an opportunity to catch up with Paolo Bugas of the Davao Aguilas-UMak FC. Bugas earned himself legendary status in the ongoing Copa Paulino Alcantara when he fired a screamer from the parking lot to beat Dynamic Herb Cebu FC goalie Jun Badelic and tie the game at 1-1. Bugas’ exhilarating piece of work, reminiscent of a David Beckham’s golazo for Manchester United against Wimbledon in an English Premier League match in August of 1996, cemented his lore among local football fans. But more importantly, Bugas’ strike sent his team to the finals of the Copa against powerhouse and huge favorite Kaya FC Iloilo.
Which is very deserved. Bugas, who spent several years away from the pitch during the pandemic to become a full-time dad and take care of his young family– his wife Sara, daughter Scarlett and his bunso, Savi– almost quit football for good.
Despite the surprise over his goal and his cojones to even make an attempt that far, Bugas said it was planned all along. He was just waiting for the perfect time to unleash it. He already tried it during the first leg of the semifinals, but Badelic was up to the task then.
“Alam namin kasi game plan nila, which was to attack all game long. So we focused more on the defensive side so expected na pati si Jun (Badelic) ay aangat din. I have been observing him since the first half talaga. Feeling ko my chance talaga pag tri-nay ko. Naghahanap lang talaga ako ng tiyempo at puwesto. So nu’ng bumuka depensa at nakita ko puwesto ni Jun Jun malayo sa goal, ayun!” Bugas shared.
Bugas and Badelic used to be teammates at Global Football Club, one of the powerhouse teams before in the United Football League. It was there where I actually first met the two then.
Calling it a kick of faith, Bugas’ goal was in itself a mirror of his hopes and dreams, that he still has some gas left in the tank, that he can still compete at 29 years old, while battling doubts in his head that his best years have passed him.
“Iniisip ko na kasi family ko, ‘yung future namin. I need a stable job. Plano ko nga kumuha ng coaching course para makakuha ng license,” Bugas said.
Before his comeback, Bugas worked in the provincial government of Davao de Oro. When he heard that the Aguilas are looking for players for the Copa Paulino Alcantara, he admitted that it was an opportunity for him to at least play one last time before finally hanging up his boots for good. But then again, the football gods have other plans for him.
“Kung ire-rate ko ang performance ko sa Copa, parang may chance pa talaga na magpatuloy pa saka nandiyan ang family ko to motivate me,” he added.
He also said that there is no bad blood between him and Badelic after his amazing goal. “Ganu’n talaga ‘yung game eh,” he chuckled.
Please tune in this Sunday, November 12 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at DZME 1530 Khz for another edition pf Larong Pilipino with The Designated Kit Man, Chino Trinidad and Cong. Butch Pichay. Discussion on who is the Philippine Basketball Association’s Greatest Of All Time, is it seven-time MVP June Mar “The Kraken” Fajardo, Ramon “El Presidente’ Fernandez or another player, will be up.
Join us in the debate on the show. We will also have the comeback kids–Davao Aguilas’ Paolo Bugas (live) and Moises “The Lion King” Ilogon (via zoom) on the show too!
Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!
For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat