Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Finally, a team that we believe in.

(Here's an opinion piece I wrote for our home match against Uzbekistan tonight.)

The Philippines will take on dangerous Uzbekistan in a crucial round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the biggest concern for some--at least for me--is whether the crowd that will show in the game would be enough to make the home game a home game.

Gone are the days of off-field drama, of player unavailabilty and of uncertainties.  Now, we got our best possible team available and we no longer rely on luck in getting  past the teams that outrank as by more than the total difference of ages of the opposing team's and our backline.



Would you be worried with a Javier Patino looking to connect with Iain Ramsay up front? Or of Phil Younghusband, the team's leading scorer, dropped in the middle and getting to choose his shots as opposed to creating chances from out of nothing?  Then there's Stephen Schrock, who's name, it seemed in the past, was enough to tally him a goal or two.  And at goal, we have Neil Etheridge, who's no longer the same player who sat the in the Fulham bench, but one with regular experience for Walsall.

Add it all up with a Thomas Dooley on the bench, a coach who has shown he really knows how to motivate and utilize the players--after that dust-up with a couple post-Challenge Cup--so yes, the crowd in the stand is what concerns me more.

And Coach Dooley, too, knows there is more at stake and it's not just the three points needed for a win.  It's about increasing the sport's profile in the country, of getting more kids to play the game, and increasing the player base. Yes, a win may go a long way to do that, but how they play the game is more important.

The Azkals nickname was never about pedigree, but about attitude. Of how one treats adversity and for kids whose team gets embarrassed by the lack of support from his school or community, or gets on the wrong end of a 10-0 rout in some inter-city meet, seeing the national team conduct itself despite the odds is what could keep them going.

I’ve seen it happen.  One hard-core basketball fan became an Azkal fan for life after watching a game, “Lingawa man diay ni’ng Azkal no, dili kabalo mu-surrender,” he said. And that’s from one who’s used to seeing his favorite teams clock out in garbage time when the lead is more than five.

For tonight, against Uzbekistan, I’m not worried nor nervous and it’s not just because we won our first two games.  It’s because we finally have a team that we dreamed of, that we deserve.

A team that we believe in.

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