To give fans a merry Christmas, Azkals have to endure a lonely one

(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Nov. 15 edition)

It’s just a few weeks before the Suzuki Cup kicks off and I both look forward to and dread the event. Anytime we see the national team in action is something to celebrate. And after another semifinal outing in 2018, perhaps this year would finally be the one that we’d get our first finals spot, right?

But here’s the thing, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Azkals will only have six days to prepare for the Suzuki Cup. That’s our shortest prep time ever. Before, we used to criticize the Philippine Football Federation for spending only a month to prepare for big tournaments, now we have six days.

HEAD SCRATCHER. To give fans a Christmas they can’t forget, Dan Palami (above), the coaching staff and the rest of the Azkals will have to endure a Christmas they’d rather forget.

That was pre-2010 when a major part of the preparation was getting players to match fit. Now, thanks to the success of our team internationally, we have match-fit players all over Southeast Asia and Europe. The big problem now is getting them all together before the Suzuki Cup.

And apparently, some clubs are so protective of their Filipino players, they won’t release them, especially if they are still in the running in their respective leagues.

Plus, there’s the whole bubble experience in Singapore, which will ask a lot from the players. Just imagine, if like in 2018, we make the semifinals, the players face the daunting prospect of spending Christmas and New Year in a hotel. The semifinals are scheduled on Dec. 27 and 28 and if the team loses, that means the earliest they could return to their home countries would be Dec. 29, add the requisite quarantine stay and you have an extended hotel stay.

If we make it to the finals, it will be played on Jan. 1, so I guess the upside is a festive atmosphere for players in their hotel rooms.

It’s not only the players that face such prospects, but the coaching and support staff as well. I spoke with Dan Palami recently and the guy in charge of the Azkals since 2010 highlighted the unique situation everyone in the team will face–a successful campaign, one that fans will love, means time away from the family, an unsuccessful one, one that sees an early exit will mean more time with the family but will come with angry fans calling for their heads.

“After so many years, we reach a point where you spend more time in the game than with your family…for this edition, if I could shorten my stay, if pwede magpa-sub, I’d be willing to take a vacation,” said Dan.

I told Dan, no one would be crazy enough to volunteer as his sub in this Suzuki Cup. He also invited me to cover the games but I’d rather spend Christmas and New Year at home and not in a hotel, thank you very much.

A six-day preparation for the Suzuki Cup? That’s the shortest among the participants. But crazier things have happened. So here’s to a Christmas away from the family for the Azkals and I hope, you’d still be in the hotel come Jan. 1.

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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