MANILA, Philippines – For the 14th straight time in the Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines failed to reach the semifinal round of the regional meet’s football tournament.
It’s a huge letdown for the Azkals as the last time the national men’s football team made it to the knockout stage was when the country hosted the SEA Games in 1991.
Azkals head coach Goran Milojevic did not deny that it was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Honestly, I thought we deserved to advance. But that’s the sport. We can get unlucky,” he said.
In their last game of Group A’s single-round elimination, the Azkals delivered their most decisive victory after a 6-1 drubbing of Timor-Leste.
But their enthralling 90-minute performance still wasn’t enough to notch the Philippines’ first semifinal appearance in 28 years as a tiebreaker hindered the Azkals from entering the tourney’s medal stage.
Led by Stephan Schrock, the Philippines finished the group tied with Cambodia with 7 points, but the Ankor Warriors pulled through with a goal difference of +6 to the Azkals’ +5.
Although the Azkals fell short in the SEA Games once again, Milojevic still sees a bright side.
“We can rise with Filipino football in the next year or in two years,” he said. “This game gave us hope. It is a hope that we can get so much better in the game because Filipinos love football.”
In 1991, the Filipino booters were among the rousing stories as Bacolod City native Norman Fegidero steered the national squad to the Final Four with a 1-0 victory over Malaysia in the biennial meet. The win earned the Philippines its first and only entry in the win-or-go-home semis.
Milojevic said his players have nothing to be ashamed of, believing that this SEA Games football lineup will go down in history as one of the best rosters to ever represent the Philippines on the pitch.
“They gave all their best in this competition, but the sport is like that. Sometimes you deserve to go up, but you’re unlucky, but I am confident that we’ll be much better,” he said.
“I told them they’ve already done what they can do and they’re heroes for me. We deserve to be in the semifinals. We just have small things to fix for the big future, and next time, I’m sure we’ll be luckier.” – Rappler.com