Fair Play: What now after Suzuki Cup exit?

(Here's my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Dec. 13 edition)
THERE we go again.

After the semifinal stage of the Suzuki Cup, we are on the outside looking in for three straight editions, this time losing to powerhouse Thailand, 3-0, in the second leg.

First it was to Indonesia in 2010 and then to Singapore in 2012 but this year's loss stung the most, and it also extended our goalless drought in the semifinal stage of Southeast Asia's premier tournament to 540 minutes.

We were close. We were so damn close and to be torn apart by Thailand just like that?


So, how do we rate this Suzuki Cup stint?

To be honest, I'm split. I'm torn between ripping the team and PFF a new behind for failing yet again to deliver for the third tournament in a row this year and taking comfort in the fact that we advanced from such a tough group with losses only to the eventual finalists (Barring a miracle, Vietnam will make the finals.)

That's what always happens every time a tournament ends without a title, (Well, every time post-2010), I feel that the players, coaching staff, and management deserved to be told , "YOU FAILED!" to jolt them into not taking comfort on the fact that they fell short.

But knowing the team, well, they are probably spending sleepless nights thinking what a could-have-been and are as disappointed as the most ardent Pinoy football fan out there.

So, how do we rate this Suzuki Cup? Well, let's make it simple and rate it on the lone number that counts: zero Suzuki crown.

A lot of fans are asking could we have done better had other players like Neil Etheridge and Stephen Schrock been in the squad?

Well the best answer for what-if-situations like that is a quote from my favorite author Tom Clancy, "If my auntie had balls, he'd be my uncle."

It's a nice exercise, but ultimately useless. And to be fair, the former players didn't join in the conversation, with Neil in particular very vocal in his support of the national team.

While it is Southeast Asia's biggest competition, the Suzuki Cup, isn't big enough to be included in Fifa's international calendar, meaning clubs aren't obliged to release their players for the biennial competition. So had we included all our European-based players, even those who swore off national team duties, in the lineup, that would have been suicide as we can't be sure they'd even get on the plane.

Using that as a gauge, and knowing how the mostly local-based players fared in the Suzuki Cup, you can't help but feel hopeful for next year, when the country plays in the qualifiers for the Fifa 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

As for the qualifiers, I think there are two questions the management and the PFF are entertaining: Should we retain Thomas Dooley and should we treat the qualifiers as the breaking-in process for the new players in preparation for the 2016 Suzuki Cup, which we will host?

The answer to the first question, for me, is obvious. Let's keep him please, the second isn't so.

If we want to win the Suzuki Cup at home, we could field our 2016 lineup in the 2015 World Cup qualifiers and give the team a two-year head start on experience, but if we want to test how far we can progress in the qualifiers, let's field the best and experienced players we have.

Whatever happens, I am confident, just like most fans, 2015 would be a milestone year for us.


Wilfred Labidez said…
AryiderEven the versatile coaches from Europe to handle the azkals we could not defeat the powerhouses of ASEAN region unless we could get very quick, very power strikers and good ball handlers/dribblers I'm sure we have the edge to defeat them. The Way I observed their ability since 2010 suzuki cup their ability is the same. We have the coach and his staff to create the game plan but our Boys are not at par with those from Thailand and Vietnam with respect to the quickness, speed and ball power accuracy. So we have to develop well our grassroots and give them domestic and international exposure always, the lets see.

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