A time to learn
The Philippines’ best showing in many editions of the Southeast Asian Games wasn’t enough to land a medal in football, the region’s most popular sport.
As Vietnam completed a golden sweep at Rizal Memorial Stadium when its under-22 side blanked Indonesia, 3-0, for the men’s crown on Tuesday night, the Filipinos were left to ponder what might have been in a campaign that had plenty of encouraging moments.
The Young Azkals missed out on the semifinals on goal difference with Cambodia snatching the berth for their first appearance in the Last Four, while the Malditas suffered a heartbreaking end to what was a promising campaign when they bowed to Myanmar, 2-1, in the battle for the bronze.
Instead of blowing up the teams and starting over again as it looks ahead to the next edition of the biennial meet in Vietnam in 2021, national team committee chair Dan Palami is pushing for continuity as most of the players will still be eligible in the next tournament.
“With the shortlist that we have right now, there’s about 12 who will still be eligible in the next SEA Games,” Palami said. “We have a strong team now so we have to continue nurturing them.”The Young Azkals stunned Malaysia, 1-0, for their first win against the regional powerhouse in 28 years. But not even a 6-1 win over Timor Leste in their final match in Biñan was enough for the Filipinos to reach the next round.
“We didn’t go through because of goal difference, but I think everybody saw how much different this team is and how better prepared they were,” Palami said. “This is the strongest ever showing by the Philippines I’ve seen in the SEA Games.”
The Azkals manager is batting for the Under-22 team to join as a guest next season to keep the players under one squad that will improve cohesion and teamwork.
“This is a start of a continuous process,” he said. “I’ve asked the permission of PFF (Philippine Football Federation) to continue with this program and put our Under-22 team in the league. We will do the same with the younger players who can join the training for the Azkals development team in preparation for the next years.”
The Malditas looked like they had the bronze in the bag when they took the lead in the second half, but two late goals from Myanmar denied them a podium finish.
But unlike the men’s division, there is no age limit for the women’s tournament and goalkeeper Inna Palacios hopes the team remains intact for future tournaments, especially with the country hosting the AFF Women’s Championship next year.
“There were a lot of improvements and we know there’s a lot more we can offer in the next tournaments, so we’re looking forward to that,” Palacios said. “We’re planning to stick together. We definitely feel the progress, but it’s something we can’t be complacent about.”