Fair Play: Super Muller saves the day

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's May 26 edition)
CALL it fate or faith, but I had a feeling Roland Muller would stop that penalty in the first half.

After seeing Edward Sacapano stop one against Singapore in Cebu in 2012, and then Patrick Deyto saving one against Malaysia just last March, somehow I thought, there’s no way this one is going in.

There’s no way a silly call would spell doom for our Challenge Cup campaign.

With fans all over the country watching the game on TV, and thousands of others worlwide catching the game online and praying for a save, there’s simply no way Turkmenistan would convert the penalty.

And true enough, Muller did it earning a second straight shutout in the tournament and extending the Philippines streak of not conceding a goal to 270 minutes in the tournament.

But of course it didn’t mean that before the match started, I readily thought we’d handily beat Turkmenistan. Taking a look at the starting list, which the commentators simply called as interesting, my first thought was what was the coaching staff thinking? Giving guys like Amani Aguinaldo or Sato the start over the veterans?

But there’s a reason why Thomas Dooley is in charge and he’s also a big factor why, after the group stage, our hunt for the AFC Challenge Cup is still alive.

And of course, we finally got out vengeance.

Two years ago, we had one foot in the finals of the AFC Challenge Cup when Turkmenistan battled back from a 1-0 deficit to beat the Philippines, 2-1, and advance to the finals.

Two years later, we send the Turkmenistan packing with that sweet 2-0 win in the final match of the group stage of this year’s edition in Maldives, making our second straight semifinal appearance in the tournament.

On Tuesday, we will have that chance again to make up for that 2012 heartbreak, this time against host Maldives in the semifinal match at 11:30 p.m. Maldives finished second in their group with four points with a win against Kyrgystan and a draw against Palestine.

The additional two matches also make sure that the PFF could at least recoup the traveling expenses for the tournament. I was told that they had to spend P8 million for airfare, and with the PFF getting some P1.5 million for every live telecast of the games, well that surely won’t hurt the coffer.

Of course, the job isn’t over.

The goal in the tournament is not to make the semifinals, or to make the finals even. The goal is to win the whole thing and book our spot in the AFC Asian Cup in Australia next year.

The finals is on Friday, book your spots in your favorite sports bars because the Azkals are going to make sure you would need it.


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