The Philippines’ under-22 men’s football team in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games that opens on Monday faces a tough job against the region’s crack junior elevens, notably Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The mission for the young Filipinos, as reported, is to at least land in the Top 4 of the competition where, happily (depending on your favorite or “hated” futboleros), all 11 Southeast Asian countries, including Timor-Leste, are represented.
A reason for our skepticism is that the Philippine Azkals have not been an exactly inspiring bunch of Kuya (Big Brother) to the juniors.
Last week, the seniors lost, 1-0, to Syria in a qualification match in Abu Dhabi for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
It was the second time in less than a month that the Syrians won over the Philippine Azkals, destroying the host, 5-2, in an earlier group game for Doha next year at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
The issue, to this corner, becomes relevant in that Kuya Stephan Schrock, 32, and Kuya Amani Aguinaldo, 24, will be backstopping the under-22 team in the SEA Games football competition as the two allowable “overaged” players under the rules (each of the 10 entries are also entitled to field two above-22 members of their respective contingents).
Surely, the junior Azkals would have wanted to be led by players coming off a victory in their latest outing, in this case the more recent Syria-Philippines encounter in the United Arab Emirates.
But that would not be the case and, as it is often said, “Mag-move on na lang” and look forward to at least a creditable showing in 2019 SEA Games futbol hostilities.
Again, what Shrock (“Shrocky” to this big fan of his who had watched live the former’s internationals and friendlies held in Manila and where he always made a good accounting of himself) has done to rekindle the love affair of Filipinos (Hello, Paulino Alcantara!) with the beautiful game cannot be overlooked.
For one, the Filipino-German, whose mother hails from Cebu and whom he calls Nanay (Mother), was partly instrumental in securing for the Philippines its first-ever appearance last year in the Asian Cup, the continent’s premier event for the big boys from Syria to Iran, from China to South Korea.
On the pitch, he is a joy to watch as both captain and player and, off it, is reportedly amiable and pleasant, making him a good role model.
Schrock will be the team captain of the under-22 Philippine team, a role that he, doubtless, would perform admirably.
Aguinaldo, a product of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, on the other hand, is a relatively experienced Azkal who reportedly has 38 caps for the senior squad with his most recent match being the goal-less draw with China also in Panaad last October in another qualifier for the Doha World Cup.
Dan Palami, Philippine Azkals manager, said the national team needed a “solid” defender, and so the coaching people chose Aguinaldo as the second overaged member of the under-22 batch.
It is important to note that Schrocky (who possibly will play as a forward) and Amani have not been reported to be nursing injuries before the Philippines’ 30th SEA Games opener against Cambodia on Monday, December 2, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila.
The men’s tournament will be an under-22 international competition or for players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997, with a maximum of two overaged players allowed and with each participating nation’s squad composed of a maximum of 20 players.
Making it to the official roster of the junior Azkals in this year’s SEA Games are Michael Asong, Justin Baas, Dylan de Bruycker, Pocholo Bugas, Marco Casambre, Dennis Chung, Mar Vincent Diano, Yrick Gallantes, Jarvey Gayoso, Jordan Jarvis, Troy Limbo, Jerome Marzan, Finn McDaniel, Anthony Pinthus, Christian Rontini, JR Suba, Edison Suerti and Chima Uzoka.
Named as reserves were AJ Arcilla, JB Borlongan, Dean Ebarle, Jovan Marfiga, Ivan Quano, Pol Saldivar and Fritz Brigoli.
Goalkeepers are Arcilla, 21, Ateneo de Manila University; Asong, 21, San Beda College; and Pinthus, 21, Filipino-Swiss, Kosova Zurich (fourth tier Swiss club).
Joining Aguinaldo (on loan to Malaysian top-flight club PKNP from local club Ceres Negros) as defenders are Brigoli, 21, former player of local clubs Global Cebu and Stallion Laguna; Casambre, 20, Chainat Hornbill in Thai League; Ebarle, 21, local club Mendiola; Jarvis, 21, Resources Capital in Hong Kong First Division; Marfiga, 21; Saldivar, 21, Far Eastern University; and Suerti, 21, Filipino-Norwegian, Brattvåg IL (third tier Norwegian club).
Picked as midfielders are JB Borlongan, 20, University of the Philippines; Bugas, 19, Far Eastern University; Galantes, 18, Filipino-Scottish, Gala Fairydean Rovers (Lowland League); Limbo, 20, Filipino-British, Sunderland RCA (Northern League Division One in northeast England for semi-professional and amateur teams); Jerome Marzan, 22, San Beda College; McDaniel, 19, Filipino-American, California Baptist University (National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1); and Suba, 19, San Beda College.
Forwards are Diano, 22, local club Mendiola; Gayoso, 22, Ateneo de Manila University; Ouano, 19, National University; and Uzoka, 21, former player of local clubs Ilocos United and Global Cebu.
The Philippines (1991 third runner-up and host for its best-ever finish) is in Group A with Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Malaysia (2017 runner-up and five-time SEA Games champion) and Myanmar (2015 runner-up and 2017 fourth placer).
In Group B are Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia (two-time gold medal winner), Thailand (three-time defending champion and seven-time gold medalist) and Vietnam (five time runner-up).
Good luck to the baby Azkals and coach Goran Milojevic!
WITH REPORT FROM JEREMIAH SEVILLA