Azkals’ new faces

This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu’s June 10 edition

It was their first game in almost two years and it showed. Against China, the Philippines looked lost in the first 20 minutes and couldn’t even string more than two passes, allowing China to bully its way to the defense.

But as the first half went on, we played better and even had a couple of decent chances, thanks to veterans Angel Guirado and Mark Hartmann. Guirado’s volley was blocked, while Hartmann was quick enough to attempt to flick in a rebound past the keeper but his attempt was easily cleared off.

However, luck wasn’t on us too as Scott Cooper was forced to make two early changes due to injuries—first Michael Kempter had to go after a broken nose due to an elbow, while Kenshiro Daniels limped away clasping his hamstring. Such an early forced change in the game plan can derail a team but we actually played better in the final 20 minutes of the first half and yes, I expected a break through in the second.

But in the second half, Bernd Schipmann conceded a penalty. It was already past two and I thought I’d stay up a bit to wait for an equalizer but a few minutes later, China managed to score from an acute angle to make it 2-0.

Still, it wasn’t all negative as some of the new guys had an impressive night. Oliver Bias, whom someone described to me as just a small boy, was quick and stood taller than his 5-foot-5 frame. I smiled when I saw him wear the No. 10 and I actually wished he’d get a fairy-tale goal in his debut since that would really inspire the small kids who get told they’re too small for the game. Like Chieffy before him, I think he will be a fan favorite, someone parents can point to—hey, he can make it, you can too if you work hard enough.

NEW KID ON THE SQUAD. Oliver Bias, the Azkals new No. 10, showed why he deserved the call-up to the senior squad. (PHOTO GRABBED FROM AZKALS FB PAGE)

Jefferson Tabinas, too, was a revelation on defense alongside the steady Carlie de Murga, who seemed to have worn a patch-up jersey in the first half. (He was a late call-up). Schipmann, who I think is the first to wear the No. 1 in a major campaign other than Etheridge, also showed competition for that spot will be tight in years to come.

Though we still have a mathematical chance at finishing second in the group—we need to win the last two games and hope China loses its last two and somehow concede at least 18 goals—the Qatar World Cup is already in the rear view mirror.

But the 2023 Asian Cup is still on board and one that the Philippine Football Federation is aiming for. We need to win the next two so in the third round of the AFC Qualifiers we can bring in Bien Maranon—God, I hope Congress will have managed to get its act together by that time.

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