Friday, July 13, 2012

Fair Play: Not favorites, but we're Suzuki Cup underdogs

(This is the draft of my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu on July 14)
SO we'll be taking on Vietnam again in the Suzuki Cup but before going to Thailand for Southeast Asia's marquee tournament, the Philippines will be on a worldwide preparation.

A camp and a series of friendlies in the US in August, another tournament in India, friendlies in September, a tournament in October in Bacolod, a camp in November and a friendly in Cebu.  And of course, there’s the UFL, too.

And my question is not whether if it's enough, but whether if it's too much?  Will the schedule, too, put the PFF and the UFL on a collision course again?  I hope it’s a big no on both questions.

Last time I checked, the India tournament wasn't part of the picture, but you really can't blame the PFF for accepting a tournament invitation in India.  Any chance you have to face teams like Jordan (No. 84 in the world and eighth in Asia) and Syria (132, 18), which once routed us, 12-0, and, 5-1, in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, you grab it.

When I read about Coach Michael Weiss's plan of having 20 matches for the team before the Suzuki Cup, I thought he was dreaming, but when you consider all the tournaments and friendlies the team has, I guess he'll get his wish.

Back in 2010, the team had a camp in Leyte, a very brief sojourn in Cebu for publicity that fans ignored, and the Long Teng Camp, now they're going to the US, India and Dubai.

I think some will be concerned about player injuries, and these are valid concerns, I just hope though that with a 20-game schedule, the bench warmers can get to see action. Coach Weiss has repeatedly said there's a vast difference between the experience of the Europe-based Azkals and the locals, and it's true.

But it’s true, too, that guys who spent 90 minutes admiring the view from the best seat in the house won’t get a minute of the experience that is being talked about.

The Azkals are scheduled to face No 177-ranked US Virgin Islands and India, who we already beat, and though these matches will affect our Fifa rankings, I see no need to field our best lineup against them and I happen to believe giving the locals experience is more important than the ranking points that we could lose (but, that’s just me).  Besides, we can always gain back the points in the Long Teng Cup, the friendlies at home, and of course, the Suzuki Cup.

This Suzuki Cup campaign will be telling.  Just as we are eager to prove the win against vietnam was no fluke (which, I think, was already proven by subsequent Azkals matches)

I think Vietnam is more than eager to prove that the loss to the Philippines was just a blip.

The last time we played in the Suzuki Cup in Thailand, we got two disasters before the team salvaged its pride and spoiled Myanmar's semifinal dream with a 0-0 draw.  We lost to Malaysia, 4-0, in the opening match and to Thailand, 4-0.  Against Malaysia, we lost Aly Borromeo to an injury minutes into the game and a Malaysian scored on a bicycle kick that ended up on CNN's Play of the Day.

Aside from Thailand and Vietnam, we are going to face the top qualifier, which could be Myanmar, and though some say it’s a bad thing since we haven’t beaten Myanmar, I say it’s a good thing because ever since conceding an injury time goal in 2004, we haven’t conceded any to Myanmar in 2007 and 2010, and we’ve change a lot, since.

Dan has said that we’re one of the favorites in the tournament and I don’t like that. Do you remember what happened that last time we got tagged as one of the favorites in a Southeast Asian football tourney?

I like to think that, despite all the changes, we are still the underdogs and I hope we start acting and preparing like one. You do remember of course that last time, as the underdogs, we faced two former champions in a group stage?

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