Blazing a trail
As soon as he stepped onto the pitch of the imposing Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia, Global striker Misagh Bahadoran took a second to let the moment sink in.
The club captain and one of the stars of the Philippine national football team has played in some of the biggest, most intimidating stadiums in the continent, but this match in this venue Down Under was something he would always cherish, the result notwithstanding.
It was the second round of the AFC Champions League qualifying phase and Global was ranged against Australian powerhouse Brisbane Roar in its 52,000-seater facility, one of the venues for the AFC Asian Cup in 2015. And while the Roar—running third in the A-League—did roll last Tuesday to a 6-0 whipping of a Global side that started preparing for the tournament for only a few weeks, there was no hint of despair among the Filipinos.
This was one defeat that Global was ready to charge to experience.
Bahadoran lets out a smile as he looks back on the journey of his team that was started 15 years ago by club chair and CEO Dan Palami at the back of the Quezon City Hall. Global has since gone from a recreational club that held kickabouts on weekends at the Sunken Garden on the University of the Philippines campus to champions of the United Football League.
With Palami aggressively acquiring players to beef up the squad, Global has blazed the trail for Philippine club football in Asian competitions, from the now defunct AFC President’s Cup in 2013 to the AFC Cup in 2015 and now the 2017 AFC Champions League.
“It’s a privilege to be the first Philippine club in the AFC Champions League,” Bahadoran says. “We’ve come a long way as a club.”
Palami says being pioneers also has its drawbacks: “We were the first club to bear the brunt of the birth pains associated with being first timers. The PFF (Philippine Football Federation) also had to make adjustments as it’s also the first time that they were involved at this level.”
After Global missed out on the knockout phase in its AFC Cup debut, both Kaya and Ceres-Negros reached the Round of 16 a year later, taking into account the lessons Global learned from the previous campaign.
Bahadoran candidly admits that Global’s campaign in the Champions League did have some bumps, particularly with player registration as some of their new signings failed to beat the deadline. The players included former Trinidad and Tobago striker Daryl Roberts, Brazilian defender Rafael Dumas and Curacaoan midfielder Kemy Agustien, who saw action for Swansea City in the Premier League.
“We submitted everything to the federation, but they were unable to process it in time,” Palami says.
But Global is always known for thriving in adversity. Last season, after missing out on trophies in 2015, Global achieved a rare League and Cup double, giving the club a qualifying spot in the continent’s top-tier competition.
“This is Global,” Bahadoran says. “It doesn’t matter who plays for us because everybody puts in 100 percent.”
That mantra was on full display last Jan. 24 when Global overcame Singaporean side Tampines Rovers, 2-0, in the first round of qualifying at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. This was a far cry from the humbling 1-6 loss it absorbed against South China in its AFC Cup debut two years ago.
Bahadoran etched his name in the books as the first Filipino to score in the Champions League with a second-half strike that came after newcomer Ahamd Azzawi opened the scoring.
The lead-up to the game was far from ideal for Global, which didn’t even have a coach a week into the tournament. Former Chinese-Taipei national team coach Toshiaki Imai, who arrived four days before the match against Tampines, steered the Filipino club to its first win in the competition.
But Brisbane Roar was a step up in the level of competition and Global got a grim reality check. The loss also meant Global dropped to the second-tier AFC Cup, where it will be pitted against Malaysian champ Johor Dairul Tazim, Magwe of Burma (Myanmar) and the winner between Boeung Ket Angkor of Cambodia and Laos’ Lao Toyota.
“We have to learn a lot from this experience and be stronger for the AFC Cup later this month,” Bahadoran says. “At least we know what level we are now. We did not lose anything going here, we actually gained a lot.”
Says Palami: “Global takes pride at this achievement, but of course we want to be back in the Champions League next season.”
Making the main draw of the AFC Champions League may still be a long-shot, but Global takes comfort at the fact that it has already built a path for Philippine teams.
FN: football 0203
Caption: Philippine Azkals and Global FC striker Misagh Bahadoran (9) breaks away during the Jan. 24 match against Singapore’s Tampines Rovers.
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