"We will only get better from here"

(This is an article for 'My Story' written by U21 keeper Paolo Pascual for Sun.Star Cebu that came out on March 9. My Story is  section for the first-hand account of Cebuano athletes.  The fotos were taken by Graeme Mackinnon)

AS THE preparations were drawing close for the U-21 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy, we were all excited and looking forward to represent the Philippines in this tournament.

Knowing that I would get match experience, I know that it would really help me a lot as a player.

Despite the lack of training, preparations and having a new coach from Serbia, Coach Zoran Djordjevic, we were all ready to give our best for our country. The team was composed of mostly young players ages 16 to 20 and two senior experienced players, Nestorio Margarse and Jerry Barbaso.

Coach Zoran taught us a lot of new tactics and techniques which really helped the team in many ways. The coaching staff was very supportive, we were one close team. The team trained for a passing game and high balls were greatly frowned upon by Coach Zoran and we made sure that we gave him what we wanted.

Brunei is such a beautiful country—green and clean. The team was in Group A together with Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, and Laos. It wasn’t an easy group at all, but we were all eager to encounter a great and challenging experience. Our first match was against Myanmar, which fielded in a good squad and five of their senior players. The match was our first as a team. yet we were still positive. As the match began, we gave them a good fight for the first 20 minutes but after that, we made a few errors which Myanmar capitalized on and had two penalties against us.

Physical fitness was also a problem in the first match when players started to have cramps but nevertheless, we still played on. The final score was 8-2, despite the big loss, Coach Zoran and the staff were proud of how we fought till the end. That was the first time Coach saw us fight with such big hearts.

We had a day to rest in preparation for the game against Laos. Before the match, our head of delegation, coach Graeme Mackinnon and I had a short talk about goalkeeping which helped me a lot.

The match was completely different from the first game because we started to show some good passing game, first touches and attacks, but unfortunately we had three errors which led to three goals in the first half. Second half came and Laos attacked relentlessly.

We adjusted and held them to a draw. The game ended at 3-1. I could humbly say that the match against Laos was the game of my life. I saved a lot of goal scoring opportunities from them and I could never forget the kiss on my forehead by Coach Zoran and him saying, “You are not normal, you were a King out there.”

I thank God for the great performance. We had a four-day break and within those days, we trained everyday and had team building activities in a beautiful beach.

Those four days really helped the team bond and get closer together. The third game came and we played against Singapore. We played even better in that game.

But despite playing with 10 men for 70 minutes, we held them to a 1-1 till the third minute of injury time wherein we had a lack of concentration and Singapore was able to score.

That goal was like a dagger through our hearts because it was literally a minute till the final whistle. That was such an emotional match but nevertheless it taught us a lot and everything was a learning experience. As each game went by, we were improving too, which was something positive.

We still held our heads high as the final match against Indonesia was fast approaching. Indonesia also needed a win against us to qualify for the semifinals.

During the match, 80 percent of the stadium was filled with loud Indonesian fans. It was a great atmosphere and their heckling even made us more pumped up to play.

The game began and rain just kept pouring with never ending screams, noises, horns, and lasers around coming from the fans. We couldn’t even hear each other or communicate on the pitch due to the noise.

Unfortunately in the end, Indonesia came out with a 3-0 victory.

The experience all of us went through made us all winners in our hearts. I realized that at the end of the day, the score didn’t matter for now, but it’s on how we played the game, and we the U-21 are proud to say that we fought with all our might for our country.

We are also thankful to Coach Zoran and the staff who supported us and treated us very well, who always encouraged us and who opened their eyes and saw the great efforts we’ve done.

It was a once in a lifetime experience that will remain in our hearts, mind and spirit forever. We can only get better from here. (After playing in Brunei, the author is now in Nepal as the No. 3 keeper of the Philippine men’s national team in the AFC Challenge Cup)


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