Realistically, even with the Philippine Azkals carrying the country’s banner in the 2018 World Cup campaign, nothing much came out of it, except perhaps the shocker of a first-time win against North Korea early this month.
The victory over the Chollimas, however, was a no-bearing one in the quest for a slot in Russia as the Philippines had already been eliminated after earlier losses to Bahrain and Uzbekistan in group play.
The consolation from that campaign is that the country, finishing third in the bunch, managed to barge into the next group stage of the Asian Cup, the continent’s premier tournament for national teams.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Azkals, however, where it’s representing the Philippines far beyond Asia is concerned.
On a bright note and at the Asian club level, members of the Azkals still get to show the high quality of football that they have come to be known for over the few years that the beautiful game seemed to have surged back into the consciousness of not only fans of the game.
Until the recently concluded United Football League (UFL) Cup, the Philippines only had two clubs in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup–Ceres-La Salle FC and Kaya FC, this year’s local squads in the top club competition in Asia.
Spearheaded by Azkal stalwarts, the two teams are surprise leaders in their group, with each having a more than realistic chance of moving into the next round of qualification play.
This early, another local club beefed up by Azkal players has made it as a returnee to the 2017 AFC Cup–Global FC, winner last week of the UFL Cup over Kaya FC, 3-1.
It would not have been “good” for Philippine football if Kaya won because it already is slugging it out with the best club teams in the region, would it?
In the years ahead, we could be seeing more local clubs contesting the AFC Cup as a new generation of footballers, not only younger Azkals poised to take the place of many national players contemplating retirement but also proud products of UAAP and NCAA football teams, sets its sights on international leagues that matter.
In the game against North Korea, for example, a young Miguel Tanon, a former collegiate star, helped Manny Ott in scoring the equalizer for a 2-2 count (the Azkals eventually won, 3-2).
Tanon did a Schrock, executing a delightful back heel pass that enabled Ott to kick the ball to the back of the net.
Of course, he must have been surprised that he was able to do it in only his first international outing as an Azkal.
Other university standouts who could make it to UFL clubs or even the national team are Paolo Salenga and Paolo Bugas, young, skilled and presumably dedicated to school, club and country as any other Azkal or Ceres-La Salle football player.