Where are the Azkals?

As far as I can remember, World Cup Qualifiers start on June 11, 2015. That’s barely more than a month away. If today was still January, I could understand the seeming absence of the azkals from the limelight. But no, with 34 days left before the supposedly most-anticipated tournament for our National Team, preparations have been nil. Nada. Zero. What’s happening? Where are the friendlies? Or the training camps? Are we that confident that one training camp done 3 months before the competition (which ended with a 2-1 loss to Bahrain, which is the team we will go against on June 11) is enough? I thought I read before that we are going to prepare for this more than we have prepared for the Suzuki Cup of last year? It seems to me that things just got worse.

Plans of having friendlies against neighbors Vietnam and Malaysia seems to be falling apart. And as I browse every night and day for news regarding the azkals, I often leave with disappointment. This was not what I thought would transpire. There are a lot of things that needs to be done, especially mastering the new formation Coach Dooley implemented during the last friendly against Bahrain. Players from overseas were thought to have been called and convinced to play for us, but so far, the likes of Stephen Palla, Iain Ramsay, Luke Woodland and the rest seem to have floated away.

The question now is, what do we want to happen?

Is this a case of local-football-first scenario where PFF now encourages UFL clubs to let their players play for their club and put national duties aside? Or is this a case of negligence on the part of the federation to prepare for such an important tournament?

I have respect for those in the PFF and the management staff of the National Team, but what is being shown now is plainly unacceptable. While other countries are preparing, we seem to be sitting ducks. Even Brazil, with their excellence in football, does not let themselves unprepared. Looking at where the Philippines currently stand in the Football World, I see no explanation to this drought of games (and preparations).

Bottomline is this: If ever the PFF or the Azkals management is seeing this, I ask you to please give more attention to the National Team when it comes to preparing for the WORLD CUP. Yes, this is the WORLD CUP we are talking about. Not a 2nd-tier-competition and not a regional-competition. These are the kind of tournaments where every game, every point, and every cheer counts.

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Does Global FC deserve the support of Filipinos?

Filipino football fans are surely aware that Global FC became the first Philippine-based football club to enter the AFC Cup, the second-tier club football tournament in the AFC, and their first game against South China AA, held in the Rizal Memorial Stadium last February 25 gave a sour start in their AFC Cup campaign. But while I was watching the game, it didn’t matter much to me whether Global will win or lose. I was watching because of the fact that this has never happened before. A Filipino club against club teams from football countries? This almost seemed to be an impossible dream 10 years ago. But here we are now. The 1-6 loss may have reflected several weaknesses and controversies, but I was nevertheless happy to see Global there.

The rise of our National Football Team, the Azkals, has provided a platform for the development of Football in our basketball-centered nation. The United Football League came into place, and teams like Loyola Meralco Sparks, Kaya FC, Team Socceroos, Stallions FC, Ceres, and many other teams sprouted. All of this happening in a span of 5 years. Any Filipino football fan should be able to appreciate this dramatic progress in football in our country. Hence, the answer to the question of supporting Global FC seems to be a clear and resounding ‘YES!’. But no, surprisingly as it seems, the answer to this question is not unanimous, and even more surprisingly, the answer of the majority may even be a loud ‘NO!’.

The picture below shocked me.

credits to KAYA FC official football page. https://www.facebook.com/ultraskaya/photos/a.175704242525835.38362.174611515968441/773016336127953/?type=1&theater
A tifo made by Ultras Kaya. credits to their official facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/ultraskaya/photos/a.175704242525835.38362.174611515968441/773016336127953/?type=1&theater

As if not supporting is not enough, Ultras Kaya decided to make a tifo displaying the sentence “Global is not my country”.

Truth be told. Global is in fact not our country. We may also consider the fact that the players of Global FC are not all Filipinos. So yeah, Ultras Kaya has a big point. But what bothers me is, Philippines is far from the caliber of Spain where Real Madrid fans can throw nasty words against Barca. We are even far from the caliber of the clubs from our fellow Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and especially Thailand. Given the state of club football in the Philippines, I find it hard to understand how supporters of the different football clubs have made a large barrier between their team and the others.

The thing is, the success of Global FC may reflect the status of Philippine Football, and that is something that Filipino football fans must understand. A country’s success in football is not merely measured by the progress of the national squad, it is also affected by how football clubs progress inside the country. That is why there are tournaments specifically designed for club football. If there is an Asian Cup for individual countries, there is an AFC Champions League for clubs (1st tier club football tournament in AFC, similar to that of the UEFA Champions League). A more concrete example is the fact that Buriram United, a Thai Club Football side, is an AFC Champions League team, whereas Global FC has just qualified for the AFC Cup. And that’s a huge indicator of the difference between Thailand and the Philippines when it comes to football in their own respective countries. How can other countries respect Philippine Football if a club team from our country will just be whipping boys in a 2nd tier football tournament. I even read a post where football fans from different Southeast Asian countries are saying how Global was ‘the shame of ASEAN”. Is that the image of Philippine Football that we want them to see? And then I looked at how Filipinos reacted. I was expecting support comments, but no, that is not the case.

Having said that, it is pretty clear for me that, YES, Global FC deserves our support. Not only that, they NEED our support. For fans of the different football clubs, go on and cheer for your respective teams in the UFL. I see nothing wrong with that. When your team face Global FC in a league match, go and chant for your team and against Global. But when it comes to AFC Cup games, yes, only for those games, I think we have to go out and cheer for the club carrying the image of Philippine Football. We have to support Global FC.

I meant no disrespect to anyone. I just believe the fact that the success of Global FC in the international stage reflects the stature of Philippine Football itself, and that is enough reason to support them in their AFC Cup games.

Road to Russia 2018 starts next week

Official Logo of the 2018 FIFA World Cup 2018

Despite being more than 3 years away, the qualification stage for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will begin next week on March 12. 12 of the lowest-ranked teams in Asia (AFC) will start their campaign of qualifying for the world’s most prestigious single-sport event.
Fortunately enough, the Philippine Azkals were automatically drawn into the second round of the qualifiers being ranked in the top 34 teams in asia. (Rank 17).
Now, the term ‘lowest-ranked teams’ does not reflect the true nature of the upcoming fixtures. Let me enumerate the countries participating in the 1st Round of World Cup Qualifiers.

India vs Nepal

One thing is for sure in this match-up, no one is quite the heavy favorites. While India has been known as a football country for so long now, their steady decline in the past few years will have an impact against a Nepalese side which have improved quite well. Take for example the 2 Azkals friendlies against Nepal in the past year, yielding two 3-0 results in favor of the Azkals. The first result was a reflection of the weakness in defense and midfield of Nepal, but the second one was more of carelessness in the dying minutes. They have shown remarkable improvements in their offense as they use the flanks quite well, pushing the defense against the rope at times. This success may be able to pull Nepal up enough to defeat a mediocre Indian side.

Prediction: 2-1 (3/12/15), 1-0 (3/17/15) Agg. (2-2) Nepal advancing through away goals.

Yemen vs Pakistan

In a clash of David vs Goliath, Pakistan will surely feel the underdog status as they face Yemen, a much underestimated team in the middle east. The rankings may reflect otherwise, but Yemen has provided some respectable results, including draws with Asian Cup sides Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. But considering political unrest in Yemen, making the home leg for Yemen to be done somewhere else, Pakistan may just have a touch of luck on their side for this one.

Predictions: 2-0 (3/12/15) 0-0 (3/17/15) Agg. (2-0) Yemen advances.

East Timor vs Mongolia

Timor Leste has shown Southeast Asia that they deserve some of the spotlight if their formidable showing in the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers are to be considered. Although failing to qualify to the main tourney, they have still shown a lot of promise. Against a Mongolian side which had little showings in the past years, Timor Leste may be on their way to the 2nd Round.

Prediction: 3-0 (3/12/15) 0-1 (3/17/15) Agg. (4-0) Timor Leste advances

Cambodia vs Macau

As a southeast asian, seeing Cambodia progress to the next round would be a good thing, and not an impossible thing, as they face a lowly ranked Macau side. But looking at previous results, this fixture may just prove to be one of the most unpredictable one. Cambodia, with the help of Laboravy, their ace striker, have what it takes to penetrate through the soft defense of Macau. The questions now is how the Cambodian defense will hold against the attacks of Macau. 2014 for Cambodia saw mediocre results during the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers, while Macau surprisingly drew with Singapore in a friendly. This says a lot with the capabilities of Macau, and the weakness of Cambodia. Only time will tell which team can go through.

Prediction: 3-2 (3/12/15) 2-2 (3/17/15) Agg. (5-4) Cambodia advances.

Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) vs. Brunei.

Fixture results have not been so friendly for Chinese Taipei, except from their surprising draw against DPR Korea last year. Aside from that, they have been defeated by Hong Kong, Guam and even Cambodia. Brunei on the other hand, has provided some spectacles during the Suzuki Cup Qualifiers, but not enough to win games. Their National team also just made their comeback after a fixture-less 2013. What must be taken as a positive from them is that they know how to score goals, only that they allow goals to go past their defense. This may just be the break Chinese Taipei has been waiting for.

Predictions: 3-0 (3/12/15) 0-2 (3/17/15) Agg. (5-0) Chinese Taipei advances.

Sri Lanka vs Bhutan

Both teams on this fixture have had their share of humiliating defeats in the recent past. While I am having a hard time pulling words out of my mouth to describe this fixture, I think it is noteworthy to say that Bhutan has not played any game for 2014, which brings a surprise when they opted to join the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. The same can not be said for the Sri Lankan team which has played several games in the recent years, including a win over Seychelles and a draw against Bangladesh. I also think they have a national league of their own, but I currently have no other information on that matter. That being said, one can easily say that Sri Lanka has a football foundation in their country which sadly does not reflect as success in their National Team. But against a lowly-experienced Bhutan side, they may have been drawn their luck this year.

Predictions: 5-0 (3/12/15) 0-3 (3/17/15) Agg. (8-0) Sri Lanka advances.

As for Philippine Football fans, April just can’t come any faster, as we await the draw for the 2nd Round of Asian Qualifiers. The road to the World Cup has started, and so does the preparations for our very own Azkals.

Stay tuned for other Football related news.