Azkals Vs. Sri Lanka Diary (Entry Five)
Musings on an Azkals Super Sunday
By Bob Guerrero
Last Wednesday after the Azkals underwhelming 1-1 draw versus Sri Lanka, the team sullenly took its postgame dinner at the coffee shop of the elegant Galadari hotel in Colombo.
The Azkals arrive at Sugathadasa a day before their first match vs. Sri Lanka: Anton del Rosario, Rob Gier, Angel Guirado, James Younghusband
Anton Del Rosario, iPad in hand, wearing a loose-fitting white long-sleeved shirt, and with large earphones perched over his head, was in a fighting mood in spite of the team’s lackluster effort.
“Just you wait till we get back on to the good pitch in Rizal Memorial,” he intoned to a table of Pinoys. “You’re gonna see something good.”
Now we know he wasn’t kidding.
Last Sunday the full power of the Azkals was unleashed in front of a packed crowd at Rizal Memorial Stadium. It was the emphatic result we all wished for.
Chieffy Caligdong cemented his status as his generation’s finest homegrown Pinoy player with another crucial opening goal.
The team piles on top of Chieffy Caligdong after his goal at Rizal Memorial Stadium
The mercurial left wing has a history of coming up big in important games. Caligdong made his Azkals debut way back in 2004, in the old Tiger Cup, now known as the Suzuki Cup. The Philippines were trailing Timor Leste 1-0 in a group match with minutes to play. Coach Aris Caslib sent Chieffy on and he did nothing less than score in the 89th and 92nd minutes to snatch the Philippines’ first ever win in the ASEAN Football Championship.
Two days later he was at it again, against Thailand. His 27th minute strike gave the Philippines a shock 1-0 lead against the regional powerhouse. But Thailand went on to win 3-1.
At the 2008 Challenge Cup qualifiers in Iloilo, Caligdong scored off a goalmouth scramble in the 28th to earn a crucial goal against Brunei. The game finished 1-0. Sadly the Philippines missed out on the Challenge Cup on goal difference.
Flash forward to January of this year. The UFL Cup final at the University of Makati field. Air Force Rider against Global Smartmatic. Global takes a 2-0 lead deep into the second half. Air Force wins a penalty that Ian Araneta converts. 2-1. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Chieffy, despite being blanketed by a plethora of Global defenders, outfoxes all of them to somehow conjure a cross from the left wing that Araneta latches on to and pokes past keeper Ken Dolloso. 2-2. But minutes later, Chieffy will again be foiled as Izo Elhabbib heads home the winner.
Then February 9, in Bacolod’s Panaad stadium. No retelling necessary. If you don’t know the details of his by-now mythical opening goal against Mongolia, then kindly crawl out of the cave you’ve been living in for the past few months and look it up on YouTube.
Then in last Sunday’s downpour, Chieffy magic struck again. Phil Younghusband heads him the ball in the penalty box, he corrals it, hopscotches around two Sri Lankan defenders, then lasers the ball with his right foot for the goal in the 19th minute.
It looks like an ordinary turn-and-shoot goal. Until you see the replay and notice that Sri Lankan keeper Manjula Fernando dives to parry the ball but misses by less than a foot. The ball strikes the inside of the post and scurries in.
In other words, the shot had to be placed perfectly. A few inches to the right and Fernando’s fingertips will reach it. A few inches to the left and it clangs off the post. Chieffy turned and unspooled a shot with pinpoint accuracy from fifteen meters out with his right foot. Not bad considering it’s his weaker foot. Yup, Caligdong is left-footed, hence his spot on the left wing.
Oh and if you’ll recall the Mongolia goal? Right footed too. Off the air. Through the legs of the keeper.
Twenty-four minutes later we were up 2-0 thanks to a strange goal by Phil. The assistant referee called a foul that could have disallowed the strike but the Korean referee, who had a much better view of proceedings, overruled him. Replays showed that contact was minimal and he was totally in the right.
Phil Younghusband training in Sri Lanka
The third goal from Guirado y Aldeguer was a product of his hard work, as he picked up a gorgeous pass from James Younghusband, sprinted 30 meters and poked it past Fernando, who overcommitted and went to ground early. Guirado’s struggles with Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome seem like a distant memory.
The best part of this goal? Guirado and Chieffy’s matador celebration. Caligdong made bullhorns out of his fingers and charged through an imaginary cape being held by Angel. Classy.
The fourth goal, Phil’s penalty, was off Tharaka’s clumsy challenge on Stephan Schrock. James seemed to argue with his brother about who would take the spot kick, and apparently James didn’t join in the goal celebration. At any rate, Phil slammed it home.
Phil Younghusband’s penalty kick
But apart from the goals, the big story was the Philippine midfield’s silken passing. Manny Ott, Schrock, Caligdong, and James Younghusband shuffled the ball around like it was pinball in a pinball machine all day long. One particularly delicious passage in the 33rd minute brought out the oohs and ahhs in our commentary booth. And a lot of the credit for the passing can also be given to the world-class pitch at Rizal Memorial.
Last Tuesday I walked around the Sugathadasa field during training and was apalled at what I saw. Numerous ashtray-sized craters, hastily filled with dirt. A patchwork quilt of several different species of grass. And worst of all, clumps of weeds everywhere. No wonder the Azkals resorted to long-ball play. The Sugathadasa cabbage patch, was a Footballing Mini-Golf course that rewarded luck more than skill.
In contrast, the Rizal memorial greensward was soccer paradise. A putting green of Bermuda grass that served as a canvas for Schrock and Ott’s slick pas de deux. The Philippines desperately needs more pitches like this, and soon.
The other big news from the match was Aly Borromeo and Stephan Schrock’s second yellow cards that will keep them out of the Kuwait series Leg 1. Both were unnecessary and avoidable. Schrock insisted on jawing forehead-to-forehead with a diving Sri Lankan defender and was correctly booked. Perhaps he will develop the maturity to walk away from such contretemps in the future.
Aly Borromeo’s indiscretion was arguably worse since it happened at 4-0 when the game was in the bag. I guess the mind can also be regarded as a muscle that gets tired and doesn’t function as well deep into an exhausting game. It’s understandable. But Aly’s leadership and experience will be sorely missed.
Schrock’s absence might not be too bad if Paul Mulders can slide into his preferred attacking mid role, with perhaps Roel Gener slotting in at left back. But the cupboard is bare for centerbacks of Borromeo’s standard. Some might be queasy at the thought of Jason Sabio filling the role. But who else? Kim Relucio? Roxy Dorlas? David Basa? Jerry Barbaso? Coach Weiss will have to look long and hard at his options before naming the next Azals roster. Hopefully Ray Jonsson will be available.
Aly Borromeo and Paul Mulders
But more than just a Football game, last Sunday was a seismic cultural event. Finally, after decades of apathy, the Philippines is now a Footballing nation. The ardor for the team is fresh, new, genuine, and heartfelt. You could feel it in the Kaholeros cheering, in the roars of the crowd after each goal, and in the outlandish costumes spotted everywhere.
February 9 in Bacolod was our first sold out home game and it was special, but this tops that by a mile. The atmosphere was incredible from start to finish, and for sure July 28 will be another sellout.
Kuwait looms. Ranked more than fifty spots ahead of us, this Arab squad will be heavily favored. But I see more hope now than I did weeks ago. Firstly, Mulders may not have any equal on the field that day. Plus, Kuwait may be a Football-mad nation in a football-mad region with a high standard of play, but they are hardly the best team in the Arab world.
In their last competition, the 2011 Asian Cup, Kuwait lost all three games in a weak group featuring China, Uzbekistan and Qatar. The Al-Azraq, as they are called, just might be beatable.
Last Sunday also brought back memories for me. Nearly 20 years ago the Philippine Team upset Malaysia at Rizal Memorial 1-0 enroute to finishing 4th in the SEA Games competition. I was in the stands that day when Elmer Bedia launched a perfect cross from the right side of the south end towards the goalmouth. Striker Norman Fegidero, who would one day become national team coach, was there to poke it home for a famous victory.
The Azkals win 4-0
After the game I finally met Bedia, after weeks of being Facebook friends. Now dreadlocked and wrinkled but still fit, the former Mr. Football from Barotac Nuevo now lives in Brisbane and flew in for the event.
Rizal Memorial Football Stadium is home to Philippine Football’s past and present glories. Will it be the scene for future success? We’ll all find out on July 28.
Bob Guerrero is a freelance sports broadcaster and writer who has also been a rabid Azkals fan since about 2002.
The Azkals’ road to victory in photos:
July 28th at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka: Misagh Bahadoran, Aly Borromeo, Nate Burkey
The lighter side of training: Roel Gener; Aly Borromeo and Manny Ott
Ian Araneta, James Younghusband, Stephan Schrock
Azkals vs. Brave Reds at the Rizal Memorial Stadium
The Azkals starting lineup vs. Sri Lanka
Commentator Darren Hartmann gets prepped before going on-air. Hartmann is midfielder for UFL FC Loyola Meralco Sparks and youth coach in Nomads.
Darren Hartmann and Bob Guerrero
Playing in the downpour in the first half
Final score, Philippines 4-0 Sri Lanka
James Younghusband, Dan Palami, Anton del Rosario, Rob Gier, and Roel Gener
Paul Mulders, Misagh Bahadoran, Aly Borromeo, James Younghusband, Rob Gier, Roel Gener, and Anton del Rosario
Stephan Schrock: the next Azkal to appear on a billboard?
Neil Etheridge dedicates the game to his grandfather
The Azkals celebrate with the crowd
Life’s My Trip would like to thank Bob Guerrero for contributing his photographs and writing this article, and Shiela Tiongco for the Canon S90 loan last Sunday.