IT was a heart-breaking defeat to Palestine in the Maldives National Stadium in the very first hour of Saturday our time. It made the Philippines the second placer to Palestine in the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup.
Filipinos were exhilarated by the Azkals victory against Maldives on Tuesday, which gave us a chance to compete for No. 1 in the AFC Challenge Cup. But we all knew that win or lose—in the encounter with Palestine—the Azkals are already heroes in our hearts.
So this second place to Palestine doesn’t matter. That’s football.
We still love you, Azkals. And we will continue rooting for you and praying that greater things come to you and football in the Philippines.
Friday midnight to early Saturday our Azkals once again showed a lot of heart and power too. For almost an hour our team denied the Palestinians their winning goal. The Azkals also made heroic attempts to score nine times but failed because the Palestinians would crowd in front of the goal each time our team mounted an attack. And they surrounded our center forward Phil Younghusband most of the time.
Goalie Amani Aguinaldo was great. And the other defenders did a good job keeping the Palestinians away.
The Azkals were simply valiant.
Azkals manager Dan Palami told the Palestinians: “Congratulations to Palestine, we lost to a good team tonight. To all the Palestinians, we pray that peace may finally reign in your land.”
The Palestinian reply was also gracious. Said their leader, “I’m sure we’ll see PHI Azkals on the big stage soon. Congratulations to you, your players and your super classy fan base.”
Our second-place finish in this year’s AFC sets a record for Philippine football. It is the highest place we have earned in the Challenge Cup.
Our team won’t go to compete for the Asian Cup (to be played in Australia) next year. But they will soon enough.
Now they will come back home as heroes in our hearts.
The Azkals will come home to a Philippines that has, thanks to them, warmed up to football.
Private sponsors have shown interest in the game. UAAP football matches are now being televised.
It’s no longer only in Barotac Nuevo, at the Nomads’ in Parañaque and the military camps where there are respectable pitches. The one at the historic Rizal Memorial Football Stadium is now looking green. A business tycoon has laid out a field at The Fort. Friendlies and international games are being played in the stadiums in Bacolod and Cebu.
Instead of playing only basketball, you can now see children kicking ball in Pasay and Quezon City streets.
We can still find ourselves like another Brazil, Mexico or Argentina one of these days.
Thanks to the Azkals.