[Last Lap] A gallant silver football medal for the Azkals

Palestine crowded their half and tightly marked Philippine attackers. The Filipinos grasped any attacking chance but were undone by hurried shots and some rugged defense by Palestine.

The few chances the Philippines had like crosses from Jerry Lucena and Sato, who also showed tenacity in defense by sometimes grasping at the jersey of Palestinian forwards, were not pounced upon by the forwards as their foes crowded the goalmouth.

Coach Thomas Dooley waited for the second half to insert Lucena, who has shone in previous games. This may have deprived the Philippines of some chances in the first half. 

Having been stuck at the lower half of ASEAN football for decades before the Azkals burst on the scene in 2010, the Palestine result is a letdown for thousands of soccer fans  thirsting for a breakthrough win. 

But the path to excellence gets tougher with every climb. The skill and toughness of teams the Philippines faced in the AFC Challenge Cup were at a high level. And countries like Palestine and Afghanistan take great pride in their football, which has unified them in times of strife. 

Because the Azkals fought gallantly, the Philippines’ silver in the AFC Challenge Cup is like a gold medal for a basketball-crazy country where people have to be reminded there are diamonds in the rough like young tall defender Amani Aguinaldo from Davao.

Dooley was named coach of the Philippine national team in February. He has a one-year contract to make things happen. Some decisions on the team will be made. But let us enjoy for a moment how the Azkals made Filipinos proud early Saturday playing the beautiful game. – Rappler.com