Sunday, December 02, 2012

Fair Play: See you in Manila!

I REMEMBER my reaction when I read in a report that Dan Palami, the team manager of the Philippine men's team, say that the Azkals were the favorites to win the Suzuki Cup.  What was Dan smoking?

A few hours after that report came out, I read a clarification from Dan, who said that he meant that the Azkals were "one of the favorites," but still, I thought even that statement was quite a stretch.

It's not that I don't believe Dan, it's just that when it comes to Southeast Asian football, teams like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia have the right to call themselves, favorites, or even, one of the favorites.

And, mind you, Dan's statements came after the draw, when we found out we had Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar in the group stage.  

When I read Dan's clarificatory statement, I actually scoffed.  I thought that the team, already pressured by anything related to the 2010 campaign, doesn't need more pressure like the manager mentioning “favorites.” And after the draw?  I thought we'd either have to be really lucky, or be really good to make the knockout stage.

I thought, too, that to get past the group stage, we'd really have to have our best players.  

But this is football and funny things happen.

We didn't get the best players available who are seeing action in the best leagues (though this maybe a subject for debate)—Neil Etheridge, who is stuck playing No. 2 in Fulham and Stephen Schrock, who wasn't released by Bundesliga's Hoffeinheim.

We didn't have the best players, but this is football, and despite that, we got the best team.

And we now have a home game, this Dec. 8, against Singapore.

A month or so before the Nov. 15 game against Singapore, I got to talk, too, with coach Michael Weiss.  Among the questions I raised were who would be our keeper for the Suzuki Cup.  At that time, it was a big debate between Etheridge and Muller and Ed Sacapano,  who is now known as Edsa, was an afterthought.

I think at that time Ed was struggling in the UFL, what with an Army defense that was as effective as a sputtering World War 2 tank, so he was never in the equation.

Those who were, were guys who played so brilliantly in the group stage but may not be getting enough recognition.

"Rob Gier will be very vital," coach Weiss told me, while enumerating the various contributions of Gier on and off the field, and on and off the play.

"If you have Gier, (Dennis) Cagara, Juani (Guirado), (Ray) Jonsson in the back line...," coach Weiss continued,.  Though he didn't elaborate, I know that by his non-verbal statement, he said, "Then the goalkeeper problem wouldn't be a problem."

This backline, save for Ray in the final game against Myanmar, like Ed, got us here, in the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup for the second straight year.

Roland Muller is coming, but like I said in a tweet, I think Ed Sacapano deserves to start, especially after his exemplary showing against Singapore.

You could say that the confidence of Singapore, which fought from a 2-0 deficit to win, 4-2, against Laos is growing but hey, so is Phil Younghusband's confidence.  It's so nice to see the Phil of old, the one who you'd expect to make those shots he had against Myanmar.  And there's Angel Guirado, too.  To be honest, I really don't like the way he played pre-Suzuki Cup but I think his role in the team was made obvious when he came as a first half sub to Denis Wolf.  Angel is Angel and Phil is Phil, both played their roles against Myanmar, brilliantly.

And of course, there's Gier, Cagara, James Younghusband, Chieffy, Patrick Reichelt and even Jason de Jong, a player who you'd expect to contribute only to the team's card tally but has consistently proven why he deserves to be in the team.

I really thought Dan was out of line when he mentioned the word favorite, even in that follow-up statement, but here we are, we have a home game.

That’s why I will be there. But not for this Saturday’s game, though.  This stint was so unexpected that I never planned for it, and besides, it’s the Cviraa and Pacquiao week, and, to put it mildly, it’s quite busy.

But I’ll be there for the next home game. 

Because it turns out, Dan wasn’t stretching it.  So, see you in Manila.

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