Despite tempered expectations, early Azkals’ exit still hurts

Though I did temper my expectation for this edition, it really is still disappointing to exit the group stage of the Suzuki Cup for the second time in the last three editions. Thirty minutes into the game against Thailand I thought, it would be impossible for us to beat the Thais.

They were simply too good at keeping the ball and how can you score if you can’t even get a decent shot? It was flattering to call Angel Guirado’s shot in the first half an attempt and all throughout the match, we had two. The scoreline, 2-1, flattered us and if not for Kevin Mendoza and the woodwork, the Thais should have won by two or three.

Though I think the penalty was undeserved, the Thais clearly deserved to win.

100 PERCENT CONVERSION. Patrick Reichelt celebrates after scoring in the Azkals’ only real shot at goal against Thailand.

And then there’s the very, very late sub for Bienvinido Maranon as Gallantes even got into the match ahead of him. That’s a decision better understood squinting at the ceiling with a glass of your favorite liquid poison. That late sub will surely have fans saying sack Hall or is still Scott Cooper?

We still have a game left against Myanmar and I hope to see Sandro Reyes make his senior team debut. Who knows, if he does well, Southeast Asian clubs will come knocking.

You could say we got spoiled by the team, making the semis of Asean’s biggest tournament four times in the last six edition but without even a friendly before the first game against Singapore, and with only five days together a semifinal spot would have been a feat in itself.

Lessons? Longer preparation for the next tournament? Naah. We have very short memories and with football pundits missing in the mainstream media who could pressure both the PFF and team management, this heartbreak will be forgotten by the time the next tournament comes.

Though the AFF Suzuki Cup is our best chance to win a major trophy, we will never get our best squad for this because it’s not on the Fifa calendar. We will never get the Neil Etheridges or the Gerrit Holtmans or any other player with Pinoy lineages who’d break into Europe’s top leagues.

So we will deal with what we have and ironically, our national team’s success (relative) in the AFF has hurt us. Pre-2010, there wasn’t any Pinoy playing in Southeast Asia’s league and since the Azkals success, we’ve had plenty and some weren’t released and some got banged up seeing action for their clubs and missed the tournament.

Normally, a national team’s success is a reflection of the domestic league and the grassroots but we all know that’s not the case of the Azkals. Some may hate it but we need to keep using that formula to keep football in the Pinoy’s consciousness and of course we shouldn’t forget our grassroots. What East Timor is doing seems to be working, perhaps we should copy their program?

The disappointment is understandable but we will still be there for the final match against Myanmar. A little bit of history, Myanmar has an axe to grind against us in final games. Back in 2007, after we lost our first two matches, 4-0, to Thailand and Malaysia, we faced Myanmar in our last game. They were expected to beat us and advance to the semis but we freakin’ drew them, 0-0. Playing only for pride, that team that lost captain Aly Borromeo to an injury in the first game showed what an Azkal is all about. I have no doubt that the team will play Myanmar as if a semis spot is still on the line.

As for coach Hall? Call us doubters again and I’d sign a petition to have you sacked.

Mike T. Limpag
Mike T. Limpag

Mike T. Limpag has covered the Cebu sports scene for over 20 years, starting as an 18-year-old cub reporter for the Freeman in 1997 before moving to SunStar Cebu in 2001.

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