Monday, June 16, 2014

Fair Play: Girls 14 ushers in bright future for PHL football

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's June 16 edition)
WE CAN compete internationally in the youth levels, it’s only in the 16-Under age group that we begin to lag.”

That was what Philippine Football Federation technical director Aries Caslib said during the PFF Board of Governors meeting in Cebu in 2011, when he laid out the plans for the development of grassroots football just weeks after the country’s consciousness was raised because of the Miracle in Hanoi by the Azkals.

Caslib, who is also a former head coach of the men’s team, said that our players’ skills in the 10 to 14-year-old levels is just the same with the rest of Southeast Asia but when they turn 16, our football culture fails to give them that competitive edge to keep on improving.

To address that, the plan then was to give our best kids the same football atmosphere that our neighbors grew up in--train them abroad.

One of the first youth teams to benefit under Azkals generation was the Boys 14 team, known as the Little Azkals. After a month-long training in football-mad Italy, they flew to Japan for and finished third in a six-nation tourney.

It was the first medal finish by a youth team in any level in years and a validation of the argument that given the right support, our boys can compete at the right level.

And the Little Azkals didn’t disappoint, beating Brunei, 3-0, and Malaysia, 2-1, drawingSingapore, 0-0, and losing to Indonesia, 2-0, and Japan, 4-0, to finish third in that tournament behind Japan and Indonesia.

Now, another batch of young footballers are proving again that we can compete, and this time, it’s not just in an invitational tournament but in the AFC Regional Championships for Asean in Vietnam. The Girls 14-Under team, which has three Cebuanas and is coached by Let Dimzon, made history the other day by making it all the way to the finals against Thailand.

Unless I’m wrong, I believe this is a the first time a youth team--boys or girls--made it all the way to the finals of an international tournament.

The girls were set to face Thailand last night for the title, and whatever the result,they’ve set the bar a year after finishing fourth last year.

The results shows how this team has improved. The girls routed Singapore, 6-0, beat Vietnam, 1-0, and blanked Cambodia, 5-0, to finish on top of their group. In the semis, they fought from behind to oust Myanmar, 2-1, with Cebuana Itsuko Bacatan getting the first goal.

This team didn’t get the overseas stint that their Boys 14 counterpart of three years ago did but they sure are winning more games.

Girls football in this country sometimes get overlooked, just as most sports involving girls, but I hope this batch of players will change that. I hope, after the AFC U14 championship, there’s a roadmap for this girls all the way to the SEA Games. Should they progress all the way to the senior team, the players they beat now will be the same bunch of players they beat today.

What happens after they turn 16? Will the lack of local competitions lead to that dreadedgap? I hope not and I hope the PFF has an answer for that.

This girls show how bright the future for Philippine women’s football is.

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