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SINGAPORE – Knowing how vital their next match against Singapore is, head coach Marlon Maro shared his experience with his young charges on being a member of the Philippine football team that competed in the 1991 Manila Southeast Asian Games.
On Sunday, Maro told them how together with teammates Rodolfo Alicante, Ronel Cajelo and Elmer Bedia, among others, the Filipinos reached the soccer semifinals of the regional sports showcase for the first time, ironically, against Singapore at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Starring the irrepressible Fandi Ahmad, the Singaporeans tuned out the hometown crowd to subdue the Filipinos, 2-0, and bag the bronze medal.
“Sabi nila ‘Wow, coach’ di pa kami pinapanganak noon,” Maro recalled of the stunned expression on his players faces after telling his anecdote.
(“They said ‘Wow coach, we were not even born yet”)
He now hopes that they can turn the tables – and give himself some measure of revenge 24 years later – when the National Under-23 booters play the Singaporeans at 8:30 pm Manila time on on Monday, June 1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium, ushering in Group A football action in the 28th SEA Games.
“The boys are physically and psychologically prepared for this game,” said Maro with guarded optimism, despite the fact that he and his charges anticipate the 6,800-capacity soccer arena will be practically filled with hometown fans.
The coach pointed out that his boys were accustomed to playing in front of partisan crowds, including their recent 10-day training camp in Australia “so I know that they will be used to the noise.”
They showed they were primed for this competition after narrowly losing to top United Football League club Green Archers FC, 0-2, last Monday, May 25, in their last tuneup game before flying over here the next day.
Maro said that his wards were out to prove that they belong in this tournament after some of the eligible Azkals like Amani Aguinaldo, Kenshiro Daniels and OJ Porteria were not released, being called up for the senior PH squad’s buildup to the World Cup qualifiers on June 11 against Bahrain back home.
“These boys are hungry. They want to prove something,” he bared. “Gusto nilang mapatunayan na kay rin nilang maglaro sa bayan.
(They want to show everyone that they can also player for their country.”)
Striker Jinggoy Valmayor likewise cited the difference between this present team and PH Under-23 squad that competed in the SEA Games soccer tourney in Indonesia four years ago,
“There are no ‘star’ players here. We don’t blame each on the pitch,” Valmayor said in Filipino. “Our bonding is stronger and we work as one.”
The UP and Pachanga FC ace added that he believed that this present crop would better the showing of the last team that took part in the 2011 SEAG football tourney in Indonesia.
Under then head coach Michael Weiss of Germany, the Filipinos had a lackluster outing and could only post one win against four losses before bowing out of the elimination stage.
One player who relishes making his SEA Games debut is goalie Florencio Baedelic Jr.
“The pressure is there but I want to prove that we homegrown players can also play at the international level,” said Baedelic, a reserve keeper for Global FC behind national team mainstay Patrick Deyto.
The 19-year-old goalie showed his mettle in minding the net for Global FC when it played Malaysian club powerhouse Pahang FC to a scoreless draw in the latter’s home pitch in the recent Asian Football Confederation Cup.
Aside from Valmayor, Maro said he was pinning his hopes on forward Paulo Bugas and do-it-all midfielder Paolo Salenga in leading the PH offense.
The Singaporean are bannered by Irfan Fandi, the son of former Singapore star Fandi Ahmad.
Maro underscored the importance of the initial game “because this will be the key to our campaign.”
“Gaining a draw (against Singapore) tomorrow would be good and a victory will be excellent,” said Maro, adding that seven points (two wins and one draw) was enough for any side in the five-team group to reach the semifinals. – Rappler.com