MANILA, Philippines – A couple days after snagging the bronze medal from the 2012 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup, several Azkals players looked back at the tournament and shared their experience in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In a television interview on ANC, members of the men’s Philippine football team talked about preparations, distractions and their successful campaign, a day after they returned to the Philippines on Thursday, March 21.
Under one flag
After a phenomenal run that catapulted the team from underdogs to bronze medalists, Palami admitted they were apprehensive before going into the tournament. Leading to the Challenge Cup, the team still had incomplete training.
“We were kind of worried sa preparations,” said Palami. “The only serious training that they’ve had was the one in Dubai. The mindset of everyone was to just fight until the end of the match.”
The fighting spirit worked just fine.
Palami credits team chemistry as a key factor that pulled the Azkals through.
“It was a continuing challenge for them to blend. Magkakaiba yung pinanggalingan nila pero (They came from different places but) they have one desire, which is to represent the Philippines,” added Palami.
Juani Guirado, the elder brother of teammate Angel, agreed with Palami, emphasizing the importance of unity in propelling them to their formidable finish.
He said he officially felt the warm welcome when he scored his first international goal for the Philippines — and the mutual understanding of what they were fighting for.
“I felt very happy and proud for the Filipinos,” he said.
Midfielder Marwin Angeles, on his first international competition with the Azkals, also underscored the value of team bonding in their success.
“Yung bonding sa team, mga jokes with each other, naging comfortable and nasanay na maglaro nang magkakasama (Our team bonding, our jokes with each other — it made us more comfortable and we got used to playing together),” said Angeles.
Amidst issues brewing in the Philippines while the Azkals were in Nepal, the team tried to focus on what was at stake.
While they were away, a sexual harassment complaint was filed against Angel Guirado and Lexton Moy, and racist comments by a television reporter aimed at the two also made headlines.
The Azkals worked to set aside those distractions during the competition.
“For me it was difficult pero mas important is to play for the team,” said Guirado. “I just showed my concentration on the pitch and most important was the third place trophy.”
The team also admitted that an added distraction was what they viewed as unruly and inconsistent officiating.
“We were surprised with the officiating,” said Palami. “They kept on giving the Azkals yellow cards. We were surprised to know that one of the referees in the match against North Korea was from India, who happens to be in the same group as ours.”
Ironically, while discussions on the Azkals’ race circulated in their home country, the team said they found unwavering support from Filipinos in Nepal, who faithfully watched their matches.
Palami said many in the team felt disheartened that their own countrymen questioned their being Filipino.
Misagh Bahadoran, a Persian-Filipino member of the team who has been living in the Philippines for 15 years now, was saddened by this.
While he is of mixed ethnicity, he said he feels every inch a Filipino.
“I was born here. Every time we play football in another country, we are called Filipinos,” he said. “I’ve had several injuries already because of football for the country, I’ve been playing for the Philippine team because I have Filipino blood.”
The issues that have plagued the team, however, have only made them stronger — even helping the Azkals achieve the success they have in the tournament, according to Carli de Murga.
“We rallied behind each other amidst the issues,” he said. “We supported each other. Actually, these issues bonded the team more.” – Rappler.com