Monday, November 24, 2014

Fair Play: It's back to Historic Hanoi for Azkals

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Nov. 20 edition)
TWO days ago, that epic match between the Philippines and Vietnam in the 2010 Suzuki Cup was aired anew by Fox Sports as part of its promotion for this year’s tournament.

Four years. It’s been quite a ride.

I remember exactly what I did during that game. I swore I nearly hit the ceiling when I jumped after Chris Greatwich’s goal. Mine was a subdued celebration as my then one-year-old was sleeping.



“How bizarre,” the commentator said when we took the lead. And yep, it was bizarre.

I’m sure, all the fans remember what they were doing that night. Heck, didn’t we all call the saints we know, promising to give up this or that if Neil Etheridge could make just one more save during that relentless Vietnamese attack?

They threw everything plus the kitchen sink but the score still stood—Philippines 1, Vietnam 0.

And when Phil Younghusband scored that insurance goal, we crossed a line where we thought we’d never cross—beat the defending champion at home.

Now, four years later, it’s back to Vietnam for the Azkals, against a host that is more than determined to not only erase the stigma of that 2010 loss, but that of the 2012 loss too.

Can we do it again?

Color me pessimistic, but I have to admit, I am not that hopeful.

Our preparation has been less than ideal, and we won’t be getting the players we would have wanted to have in the lineup.

Sure, we’re the top team in the region but as most fans know, the rankings mean nothing when the game starts.

Yep, I’m not that hopeful.

Which is kind of nice, because it’s the exact feeling four years ago when the team left for Vietnam without even a paragraph of coverage.

A lot has changed in four years and some things haven’t. But one change that I feel can tip the balance—preparation be damned—is the players’ hunger.

Four years ago, they felt lucky to be just in the tournament, now, after two failed finals stint in the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives and in the Peace Cup at home, they won’t take anything less than the prize.

Yep, I’m not that hopeful of our campaign in the Suzuki Cup, and I can’t wait for the team to prove me wrong.

Go Azkals!

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