Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fair Play: No welcome for an Azkal gone astray

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's April 10 edition)
WHEN Javier Patino first came to town, football fans drooled at the options this Filipino-Spaniard offered on the offensive end for the Azkals.

For years, Phil Younghusband had been a lonely presence on attack for the Philippines, and the first partnership of the two had Phil hitting a hat trick, while Patino scored twice.

And not a few football fans thought, “Surely, with such a potent threat up front, glory in the beautiful game would be ours.”

That was before.

Now, Patino has gone AWOL, begging off from Azkals duties due to injuries, conveniently after the club season is over. The first time he went missing,

I thought, I hoped the guy recovers fast enough so he can suit up anew.

After his continued absence, I thought, this guy isn’t interested at all to play for the Philippines again.

It seems coach Thomas Dooley’s patience has run out too.

“Javier would have been perfect for us, but we don’t know if he still wants to play for us,” Dooley told the Inquirer.

After his debut with the Azkals, Patino was signed up by Buriram United of Thailand and is now with Henan Jinye of the Chinese Super League, where he had two goals in his debut.

I’m not sure if it was because of his stint with the Azkals that Buriram got wind of him or the move was in the pipeline all along, but still, his stint with the national team helped his stock.

And his continued absence from the national team leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, especially at this time when you have guys like Neil Etheridge and Stephen Schrock moving mountains in an effort to return to the national team. And at home, you have local players dreaming of getting a stint in the national team, only to be bumped off in favor of guys like Patino.

While coach Dooley wants to wait for a commitment from Patino, I say let’s drop that absentee striker all together. There’s no need to wait for someone who doesn’t want to commit. Don’t we have a saying, that it’s difficult to wake up someone who’s pretending to sleep?

If Javier comes knocking at the Federation’s door for a spot in the Azkals, lock him up in the video room and show reels upon reels of films that has the theme “commitment.”

We need committed players because the Azkals have a busy schedule for this year as they will be having eight matches under the new setup of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers. Seeded directly in the second round owing to its strong ranking, the Philippines will face four teams in a home-and-away series.

The draw hasn’t been made yet but the Philippines will face one of the top eight teams--Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Australia, UAE, Uzbekistan, China and Iraq—who are all grouped in Pot 1. The Philippines is in Pot 3 and will also face teams from Pot 2, Pot 4 and Pot 5.

The World Cup qualifiers also serve as the qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup, so if the Philippines makes it to the top 24, it means a stint in Asia’s premier tournament.

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