Men's U22, Women's National Football Teams prepare for international battle
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines Men's U22 national team will try to win a first-ever medal in Southeast Asian Games men's football in August in Kuala Lumpur. Preparations are well underway for coach Marlon Maro's side.
Next week they fly off to Bahrain to play that country's U23 national team in a pair of friendlies on March 24 and 26. Maro, who is heading the SEA Games team for the second Games in a row, says the side will attempt to finagle a third friendly against a Bahraini club on the 28th.
The team played a friendly on Wednesday night, succumbing to Kaya, 4-1. Previously they drew 1-1 and lost 3-0 against Loyola. There was also a 2-0 loss to UFL side JP Voltes.
The list of the players who will go to the Middle East next week can be found here.
Because of the ongoing UAAP season, there are only a handful of UAAP players on the roster for Bahrain. Most are either from NCAA schools or are full professionals already either in clubs or in between contracts. UP's Daniel Gadia, Ian Clarino, and Ace Villanueva were released for the Bahrain camp by their school. They will miss UAAP games against UE and Adamson.
Fil-Swede Patrik Franksson is a welcome addition to the team. The former Laos player is a proven goalscorer in the UFL who needs to get a taste of international play. Kouichi Belgira, the very creative Filipino-Japanese JP Voltes midfielder, is also there and made some neat passes forward in the Kaya game.
Andy Esswein, the Filipino-German who was previously with Global, is nursing a groin strain and did not play on Wednesday.
But the one raising eyebrows in 19-year old Fil-Belgian Dylan De Bruycker. The former Belgium U15 and U17 national team player was stationed on the left side in attack on Thursday and gave Kaya fits.
“Dylan is very composed and tricky,” says Noel Marcaida, the goalkeeper coach of both the U22s and Kaya. “He is dangerous when he gets momentum, and in front of goal he can finish with either his left or right.” De Bruycker also stroked in a late penalty for the U22's only score on Wednesday.
Maro praised the Belgian's simple style of play and excellent attitude, saying he is “easy to coach and listens to instructions. He knows how to follow a game plan.” De Bruycker hopes to hook up with a PFL team.
Other notables on the Bahrain camp list are Arellano's Robert Corsame, a former Tondo Futkalero, and ex-FEU Tams Earl Laguerta and Van Rey Diaz. Ceres-Negros' Fil-Aussie CB Josh Grommen will also fly to Bahrain. He was unable to play on Wednesday because his team entertained Felda United in Bacolod in the AFC Cup at roughly the same time, a match that finished 0-0. At centerback on Wednesday was Junell Bautista, an internationally-sized Baguio product who has been in the youth national team system for some time now.
A passel of UAAP players will likely join the pool of players for the SEA Games preparation once the season ends on April 30. Maro says that Ateneo's sensational goal machine, Jarvey Gayoso is so committed to the SEA Games that he plans to take a leave of absence from Ateneo in the first semester just to focus on the tournament. Towering Blue Eagle defender Jay Ra Rocha could do the same. But neither of the two will fly to Bahrain next week since they have UAAP and studies.
UP Maroons Marco Casambre, Christian Lapas, and JB Borlongan are also on the 67-player list that the PFF submitted to the Philippine Olympic Committee for the SEA Games, from which the final roster will come from. UST's Marvin Bricenio is also on that list as is UE's Mar Vincent Diano. DLSU's creative playmaker, Yoshiharu Koizumi, is in the pool as is fellow Archer Jed Diamante. FEU have offered up CB Raymart Cubon and goalie Arjay Joyel.
Troy Limbo is another enticing prospect. The Cagayan De Oro-born teen is playing in England for the reserve team of third-tier Chesterfield. It is hoped he can make it for the SEA Games. You can learn more about him in this article by Jack Biantan.
Limbo was part of the Kaya U17 team that won the UFL U17 youth title a few years back. He is described as being very technically proficient in the midfield.
In that list of 67 are also several senior Azkals who make the born-1995 cutoff for this year's SEA Games. (In previous editions the cut off was 23-years-old-and-under.) Maro says Kenshiro Daniels, Luke Woodland, Mike Ott, and Amani Aguinaldo are possibles for Malaysia.
“How nice it would be to have them,” said coach Maro, smiling.
The problem is the SEA Games football competition runs from August 10 to 31, right smack dab in the middle of preparations for the Azkals' AFC Asian Cup qualifying match against Yemen in Bacolod on September 5. It will be interesting to see how the PFF works this out. In 2015 there were a few SEA Games-eligible players who were in the senior team but got either no playing time or very little playing time during Azkals games that were held at the same time.
After Bahrain the side goes to China in May for another camp then Japan in June before the final cuts are made in July. These camps will take place during FIFA international windows, when many of the players, who will presumably be in teams in the soon-to-be-announced PFL, will be released by clubs. A bunch of these players, namely Diaz, Bautista, Esswein, and Bedans Jay-R Bucayan, Franco de la Torre, will play for the Davao Aguilas.
Maro is determined to lead the team to success. He understands this competition's importance.
“If we can do well, the impact (on Philippine football), will be great.”
Women's National Team aims for regional glory
The U22s aren't the only team deep in training. The Women's senior side is preparing for the 2018 Women's AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Tajikistan beginning on April 3. The Pinays are grouped with hosts Tajikistan, UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, and Iraq. Only the best team in the group make it to the 8-team final stage.
Jordan has actually already qualified for the final stage as hosts but have been allowed to participate in the qualifying anyway, presumably to sharpen up their side and build cohesion. If Jordan finishes first then the second placer progresses.
A bunch of US-based Filipinas were either at training on Wednesday in Rizal Memorial or are going to be here soon. Veterans Hannah Parado, Patricia Tumanun, Hali Long, and Claire Lim will bring experience to the squad. Newcomer Eva Madarang, a Filipina-American from California, is also in the mix and scored in an intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday.
A bunch of young players, including DLSU standout Sara Castañeda, will feature in the side. Castañeda's younger sister Annicka is one of a surprising number of high schoolers training with the national team.
Alisha Del Campo, who like Annicka is also from De La Salle Zobel, is part of the youth movement along with Lindsay Whaley and keeper Yasmin Elauria. Whaley and Elauria, both from the Subic area, have figured in successful youth national girls teams recently. While Elauria soaks in the experience in training, Inna Palacios of DLSU is probably the first-choice goalie.
Assistant coach Marielle Benitez says the the PFL Women's League, a tournament that began late last year and is on hiatus during UAAP Season 79, has helped greatly in the development of players like Elauria, Del Campo, and Whaley. Del Campo and Annicka Castañeda played for Green Archers United in the PFFWL while Whaley suited up and scored for Outkast.
“Kaya na nilang sumabay with the more experienced players,” said Benitez of the youngsters in the pool. “The PFFWL experience shows. They don't get as intimidated anymore playing against older players.”
Around half of the players are coming from the ranks of the UAAP, but attendance has been spotty because of schoolwork and school team training and matches. The AFC qualifiers happen during the UAAP season but no women's matches will be scheduled from April 1 to 19.
The team hopes to have some friendlies in the coming weeks to sharpen the team up for what proves to be a massive task ahead. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.
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