One great night
Philippines captain Stephan Schrock woke up Friday morning nowhere near the shape he was supposed to be, just hours before the most important game for the national Under-22 team so far in the men’s football competition of the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Little did he know that the day would end as one of the greatest yet in the history of Philippine football, with him and women’s national team striker Sarina Bolden at the forefront.
Schrock bucked a bum stomach to deliver the corner that caused panic and confusion, before Amani Aguinaldo helped force the ball in as the Young Azkals stunned Malaysia, 1-0, for their first win against the regional powerhouse in 28 years.
“I was throwing up all morning,” recalled Schrock, the Azkals’ indefatigable leader, who was captaining a side playing their third game in five days.
“At lunchtime, I thought I could not play because that cramping [in my stomach] was that bad. I thought about my wife (Pinar). She’s working all year. She’s making sacrifices for me. She never puts out. She has two kids and these are all my kids in the Under-22 team and I’m very happy to help them today.”
The Young Azkals fed off the energy of a proud and passionate crowd of 6,500 at Rizal Memorial Stadium, playing with tenacity and grit to topple one of the favorites in the competition in a result that brought flashbacks of the national team’s feat in the 1991 SEA Games.
The stadium, scoreline and the opponent were the same when the Philippine men’s team pulled off its biggest win 28 years ago. The Malaysians arrived at Rizal Memorial as defending champions only to fall in an upset made possible by Bacolod-born striker Norman Fegidero’s goal.
Some of the players in the current Philippine side weren’t even born when that team hammered out that victory.
The night of joy and revelry was a fitting celebration on a day when leaders of the sport in the country went for stability and continuity by re-electing Mariano “Nonong” Araneta as Philippine Football Federation president to another four-year term.
Almost 36 kilometers south of Manila, the mood and vibe were also one of jubilation as the women’s national team fondly called the Malditas overwhelmed Malaysia, 5-0, to punch their ticket to the semifinals for the first time in the history of the tournament.
Bolden lit up the Biñan Football Stadium with a first-half hattrick, while Eva Madarang and Alisha Del Campo were also on the scoresheet to complete the emphatic win that the team hopes will lure more support in the coming matches.
“We made history and it means so much to us having so many fans and supporters here,” said Bolden after 1,500 spectators showed up for their match. “This will only inspire us to play better. Philippine football, especially women’s football, needs all the support it can get.”
The country has endured tough results in the SEA Games, but for one night, the Young Azkals and Malditas showed their immense potential—not just in putting in a tremendous performance on the pitch—but their ability to lure fans back into watching the games live.
“It’s a really big day for Philippine football,” said Schrock. “It’s amazing, it’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve seen since 2012. We are grateful to everyone for showing up on a Friday. We are very, very happy and I hope they enjoyed it.”
The Young Azkals have a much tougher climb to win a medal in the most popular event in the SEA Games, but they remain firmly in the mix for a place in the semifinals-a phase the country has not reached since 1991.
With four points from three matches, the Philippines is in third spot behind Myanmar and Cambodia, which is just ahead of the Azkals on goal difference. Cambodia, however, still has to play Malaysia and Myanmar, while the Azkals only have winless Timor Leste as their remaining foe on Wednesday in Binan.
An undeniable fact about the current Under-22 side reinforced by overaged players Schrock and Aguinaldo is their tremendous work rate in trying to win the ball early and putting teams on the back foot with their intensity.
“It is a lot of work what the guys are putting in,” said Schrock. “I think we’re the only team in this tournament pressing and playing high-speed football on the counter. The boys go above and beyond for the country and their dream and you can only praise them. What they achieved in such a short time is amazing.”
Schrock insists the team is only growing in confidence.
“We’re not getting carried away by the four points,” he said. “We have to check how many goals we have to score (against Timor Leste) but first, we have to put in the work, we have to recover, we have to clear our mind, we have to get our legs ready because these types of tournaments require a lot of mental strength and professionalism.”
The Malditas are still waiting for the result of Myanmar-Malaysia to determine their seeding in the next round.
Either way, facing Vietnam or Thailand in the semifinals will be a daunting task for coach Let Dimzon’s squad.
“It’s a huge achievement being in the semifinals, but we can’t be satisfied,” said Dimzon.
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