No Azkals game on TV? Then watch our U22 team instead
MANILA, Philippines - As you may or may not know, tonight's Azkals friendly against Bahrain will not be aired on ABS-CBN Sports + Action.
We had been preparing for the game all week. I had even written the script for the pre-game show. But on Friday we learned that there would be no international feed available for the game. That means ABS-CBN cannot air the match.
I'm as frustrated as all of you. Of course I wanted to see our national team play their first game of 2015 against a good side. But there's not much we can do. I hope there is a stream we can watch.
Please understand that the circumstances are beyond our control, so we hope you can chill out and refrain from any nastiness online.
It would have been great to see Thomas Dooley unveil his new system, which is 3-4-3 in attack and 5-4-1 in defense. It would have also been interesting to see new Azkals like Satoshi Otomo in action. And perhaps to catch Neil Etheridge back between the sticks.
In reality, a lot of countries do not take friendly matches all that seriously. Oftentimes when I try to research for a friendly by looking at online newspapers of the host nation, I can't find much coverage of the game in the sports pages. That might partly explain why there is no coverage on the Bahrain side.
Friendlies are oftentimes laboratories, where coaches slip on white coats and play around with bunsen burners and microscopes. They try out new tactics, blood young players, and tinker by playing players out of position.
So no Azkals this week, but, there's a silver lining. There's another game you can enjoy on Tuesday night. All you need is an Internet connection.
The Philippines U22 mens national team is in qualifying for the U23 AFC Championship next year. They got drawn into a group of death and last Friday we fell 4-0 to Korea DPR. Last night the Pinoys succumbed to hosts Thailand, 5-1. We have been knocked out of contention for the final round, and that means the Philippines will not be represented in the football competition of the Rio Olympics in 2016.
OJ Porteria, Daisuke Sato, Kenshiro Daniels, and Amani Aguinaldo are all eligible to play with this team, but were instead sent to Bahrain for the training camp for the senior team.
As I mentioned in a previous article, it's a tough call to choose between the senior national team preparing for World Cup qualifying later this June, and this competition, since it is a qualifier for a qualifier for the Olympic games. But I believe it's the right call. Now more younger players get a taste of international experience, and Dooley gets better preparation for the qualifiers.
This U22 team has been outplayed in its first two games, that is true. But the squad shows real promise. Goalie Junjun Badelic, the Global backup who played in the AFC Cup in lieu of an injured Patrick Deyto, has been busy in the two games, and largely good despite the heavy scorelines.
He's also once again benefited from the misfortune of the first-choice keeper. Just before the qualifiers began, the U22's first-choice goalie, Kaya's Nick O'Donnell, came down with a nasty case of gastroenteritis, necessitating a trip to a Bangkok hospital. It's unclear whether he can make it to Tuesday's final group game against Cambodia. But Badelic has been solid in his stead, making save after save and preventing embarrassing defeats in both games.
Paolo Salenga scored our consolation goal in the Thailand game. The former NU star soared into the air a la Robin Van Persie in the World Cup and nodded in Kennedy Uzoka's cross powerfully between the goalkeeper and the near post. It was a very, very eye-catching strike.
We lost heavily, but there were glimmers of quality all over the park for the Philippines. Substitute Uzoka unspooled a 30-yard attempt late that made the Thai keeper work. Loyola's Jorrel Aristorenas offered a free kick in the first half that was just two feet over the bar.
Shirmar Felongco was a threat with his marauding play out of the left back position. Perhaps wanting a more defensive approach, coach Jim Fraser sacrificed him at the half-hour mark and brought in San Beda's Matthew Asong, who was solid in his first taste of international play.
Centerbacks Ian Clarino and Josh Grommen both got roughed up, but they made at least one perfectly-timed goal-saving tackle each. Curt Dizon also had his good moments against Thailand.
On Tuesday the boys meet Cambodia's U22, captained by Prak Mony Udom, their excellent senior-team midfielder. Cambodia raised eyebrows when they scored first against Thailand off a free kick on Friday, only to fall 2-1. On Sunday the Indochinese dropped a 4-1 decision to a dominant Korea DPR team.
Via Transitive Property of Equality, the Angkor Warriors will feel like favorites in this no-bearing game. But I say the Philippines has a very good chance of getting the win. The boys just need to have it all come together for 90 minutes. It should be very intense. No one wants to finish last in the group and get the dreaded “wooden spoon.”
The match isn't on TV, but it will most likely be on live Youtube streaming.
Siamsport, the Thai sports channel, has shown all the games live on its Youtube channel so I strongly believe they will offer live streaming to the Philippines – Cambodia match as well.
The match kicks off on Tuesday, 5 p.m. Manila time, three hours after Korea DPR and Thailand joust for the group title and the automatic slot to next year's AFC U23 championship.
If you want to watch the Azkals this week, sadly you are out of luck. But if seeing another bunch of Pinoys battling for flag and country on a football pitch is good enough for you, then “tune in” on Tuesday night.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.