Why Azkals fans shouldn't panic about the losses in Taiwan
MANILA, Philippines – The Azkals went to Taiwan for the Chinese Taipei Football Association International Tournament against lower ranked foes. After easily hurdling Laos 3-1, the Pinoys were poleaxed by the hosts 3-0 then last Tuesday, December 5, were the victims of an 89th minute winner by minnows Timor Leste to lose 1-0.
Timor Leste are the 196th ranked team in the world. That is a full 78 ranks lower than us. The coach of the squad for this tournament, U22 NT mentor Marlon Maro, did not start either of the Younghusbands in that match, the third for the team in five days.
The team was without any players from the top four clubs in the Philippines Football League because of the PFL semis that is ongoing, save for Kaya's Adam Tull, who is suspended for those club games.
Now the Azkals Nation has come unhinged, with the main Facebook group for Filipino clubs turning into a cauldron of disappointment, bewilderment and sometimes rage at the poor results.
One fan even messaged me personally asking “ano na ang nangyayari sa Philippines futbol? Huhuhu.”
The team did nonetheless finish second place in the tournament behind the hosts.
Yes, losing sucks, but fans need to take a step back and look at all the factors both looking back at this tournament and going forward.
I agree that there are complaints about squad selection that have merit. They should be discussed, no doubt.
My first reaction when this sked came out was that it deflected attention from the PFL semifinals. I also wish some fine JPV Marikina players like Sean Kane, Camelo Tacusalme, and Koichi Belgira had been selected.
But these aren't the only stories to be drawn from this tournament. There is plenty of good to take out of these three matches. Here are my points.
There is nothing wrong with sending young players to a competition like this. There is a tournament in basketball called the William Jones Cup. It is considered a tune up for bigger events and has been played in Taiwan for the last 40 years.
The Philippines has been sending developmental hoops squads to the Jones Cup for years. I don't think anyone really complains, especially since many of the other participating nations do the same.
Perhaps this tournament could have been better presented to fans as a William Jones Cup in cleats. That would have loosened the expectations a bit. This is the farthest thing from an AFC Asian Cup or World Cup qualifier. Maybe some fans didn't quite realize that, so there was the usual demand to win.
With many of the best Pinoy players unavailable, a bunch of U22 NT and UAAP players were given their first chance at senior caps. This is fantastic for their future careers both for club and country. Some of these players, like Kintaro Miyagi and Christian Lapas of UP, and Jarvey Gayoso of Ateneo, will still be eligible for the next SEA Games in 2019, which we will be hosting. The added exposure at the international level is invaluable, and will help us long term.
The Philippines has long had a problem with planning ahead in all levels of society. At least here we are planting the seeds of success in 2019 with something in 2017.
Other young standouts from the SEA Games team include Dylan De Bruycker, Junell Bautista, Ian Clarino, Reymart Cubon, and goalie Ray Joyel. A member of the 2015 SEA Games squad, Nate Alquiros, also played.
Many of these players, Clarino especially, have been in age-group national teams for years. It might have been hard for them to get a chance at a senior cap in qualifiers or friendlies. It was only correct to give them a chance here.
Lapas is from Siaton, Negros Oriental. Cubon from Compostela Valley in Mindanao. Joyel hails from Floridablanca, Pampanga. Bautista is from La Trinidad, Benguet. Imagine all of the young footballers from these places who are filled with pride and are inspired to know that one of their own has become an Azkal. That can only boost the standing of football in these heartlands.
Miyagi grew up in Cebu. No doubt that province, a sleeping giant in football, is thrilled to see a 19-year old Cebuano not only score a senior goal, but score one on debut as well. It was a super goal as well, taken brilliantly with his left foot, which I am told is not his favored one. Watch it at 1:05 of this clip.
There are other stories too. Nick O'Donnell, Angel Guirado, and Yannick Tuason, who has been solid for Stallion this year, got to wear an Azkals jersey again. Guirado scored. For Tuason it was his first chance in 6 years. De Bruycker, the gifted young Fil-Belgian, also got a taste of senior international football, as did former Everton prospect James Hall, who is resurrecting his career after knee trouble. Gayoso, the Pinoy Pulisic, earning what will be the first of many caps.
These players might not have brought home victory. But they helped lay the foundation to a better future and also inspire so many others to believe in the Azkals dream.
Ranking points are not the be-all and end-all of the national team. Undoubtedly our FIFA ranking, now 118, will take a hit after losing to 196 and also to 135 (Chinese Taipei, a team that is on the rise. They just beat Bahrain in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier.) But bear in mind that these matches are considered friendlies by FIFA, so the rankings hit is less than if these were competitive matches.
Rankings are important because it theoretically could help us get easier draws for competitions.
But there is more than just ranking to consider. We also need to blood our youth for them to improve, even if it means tumbling down a few slots.
There is even a case to be made that our ranking is artificially high. Thailand is 14 spots below us at 132, which is somewhat difficult to believe. At the top of the table Poland, at 7, are 8 places higher than England, also tough to fathom.
This leads me to the next point: that rankings are very imperfect, and we should temper both our enthusiasm and disappointment when they go up or down.
We could have just said no, but didn't. Supposedly the roster for this competition was being requested while the Azkals were still in Nepal. It would have been very easy to decline the invitation from the CTFA. But instead team management found a way, rustled up a team, and joined.
It can be argued that we should have just taken a pass on this. But the arguments, for me, are weak. The competition offered, and gave, much in terms of development. In the end it was the best choice to join even if we lost.
We'll be fine in March. The team's next competitive match is on March 27, 2018, and it's a big one. A win or draw in Panaad against Tajikistan and we are through to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup final stage. Even a loss gets us through if Yemen cannot beat Nepal that night.
There will be no messing around then. This is a FIFA window, so the squad will be full-strength and ready to take on the challenge.
Meanwhile, give the PFL semifinal stage the love it deserves. Global leads after one leg, 2-1, while Ceres is hoping their 1-0 first leg lead will be a springboard to the final match on December 16. So channel your attention to these tasty matchups on Saturday.
FC Meralco Manila vs Global Cebu FC
Semis 1 Leg 2
Saturday, December 9, 7:00 pm
Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, Manila
Ceres Negros vs Kaya Makati
Semis 2 Leg 2
Saturday, December 9, 7:00 pm
Panaad Stadium, Bacolod