Patrick Reichelt: A welcome presence in the Azkals

LEADER. Patrick Reichelt wears his passion for the national team on his sleeve, something fellow Azkals and even fans can learn from.

(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s March 17 edition)

The Azkals, the team whose management wants to be known simply as the PMNT, released their lineup for their Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Iraq a few days ago and although there were a lot of new names, one stood out for me, Patrick Reichelt.

Reichelt, a thorn in Cebu fans’ side when he suited up for Ceres Negros when Global FC called Cebu its home back in 2017, traces his lineage to Cebu, but that’s not why I like him.

Back in 2018, he launched into quite a tirade against teammates who seemed contented with making it to the semifinals of the then Suzuki Cup, the Asean region’s biggest tournament.

I love that because it was a reality check the team needed and coming from someone like Reichelt, it carried more weight.

You see, one of the problems with the Azkals at that time, or even sometimes now, is that they are being babied, by both a press corps that has gotten too close to the PFF for comfort and a fan base that seemed reluctant to criticize them.

Reichelt’s I-don’t-want-to-lose in the semifinals again was a welcome change.

But of course, 2022 happened and then it would have been quite an achievement for an underprepared national squad to make the semifinals, considering it leapfrogged from one disaster to another in a three-year period that saw the team change coaches so many times that the football beat never bothered to count them.

As for the qualifiers against Iraq, I honestly don’t expect much from the team and I think one point in two games would be a win. We have a new coach and new players playing under the same old problem of not having enough time for the team to jell.

The 2024 version of the Azkals will have their first game against Iraq as no friendlies has been scheduled prior to that, unlike other teams who take things like these seriously.

But fret not.

I like what Freddy Gonzales said when he revealed his plans for the rest of the year. Should we exit the Fifa qualifiers, the PFF will use the Fifa windows to play teams ranked higher than us and there was no mention about Fifa ranking points.

You see, I think we’re the only country that pays much attention to our rank in Fifa, because frankly outside the top 50 or even top 80 teams, your Fifa rank doesn’t determine how good your national team really is.

Besides, I’ve always thought the Fifa ranking was simply a marketing ploy, and to be honest it was quite disappointing for the PFF then to chase ranking points.

Should Freddy’s plan to play teams better than us in the rest of the Fifa windows push through, I think that would be a wonderful preparation for the regional championship.

And, like Reichelt said back in 2018, it’s time we look beyond the semifinals. A semifinal stint or exit should be considered a loss, a failure.

It’s time we aim to win the whole damn thing.

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