A Peace of the Azkals

From Long Teng Cup to Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup to what has become the official PFF-approved title Philippine Football Peace Cup, this football event has gone through quite a titular transition, most Filipinos are just glad host it ended up with something monosyllabic and catchy—September being our peace month, for those who do not know.

 

This year, the Philippines plays host to this four-nation international football competition with Macau, Guam and Chinese Taipei completing the Friendly Four. Staged in Rizal Stadium, in a span of 5 days (September 25 to 29) the Philippine Peace Cup was a rather a dramatic ensemble of highs, lows, new beginnings and Younghusband tackling.

The golden ticket I wouldn’t swap for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory

Still, for the golden ticket holder, it was a magnificent 3-day experience, making all the sideline spectacles seem like halftime entertainment. Of course the main show goes to the Azkals.

PHI vs GUM (1-0)

The sparse audience was a premonition to the level of excitement of the game against Guam. While the Philippines managed to score a goal—care of Patrick Reichelt’s header on the 2nd half—the victory was not bursting with jump-for-joy revelry. It must be because Guam has been a rather refined and collected opponent to which most Filipinos have a soft spot for, bringing down the level of animosity to civilized hooting.

The first half was particularly boring, and only GK Eduard Sacapano had the opportunity to exercise his ability to soar and spring. Whatever they gave him before the game was rather effective as Sacapano successfully repelled all attempts—and truth be told, these Guamanians have been trained to forget the word “Stop”!

On a positive note, the Guamanians have surely stepped up their game—having lost drastically to Global FC a few months back. With a 1-0 score in the Philippine Peace Cup, Guam deserves a pat on the back.

 

Wolf bangs head or headbangs

As for the Azkals’ perspective, much can be improved. Araneta and Wolf are in need of goal kicking instincts, and practice, on the whole. Reichelt, Christiaens, Moy and de Murga did their part, played fairly well, and saved the game when it needed redemption. Much can be expected from Marwin Angeles and it is our hope that Marvin be given ample exposure to match his twin’s skill level. It doesn’t matter if you cannot tell them apart since they have a gap in their playing time.

 

Don’t ask me, I never heard them.

Newcomer Matthey Uy was barely noticed by the crowd but deserves the much needed attention, while Demitrius Omphroy likewise shared the similar fate, having been clearly mistaken for Reichelt. Both US-based and performed rather exceptionally, expect to see both as starting players in future matches.

 

Guamanians, we sat on your side but cheered on the other. Thanks for your accommodation.

Easily missed by the inattentive audience, this match also signaled the debut of the Azkals theme song “Pilipinas” by Tribu Calamianen. For those wondering about the song on repeat, yes, that’s the song. Composed specially for the national team, the song speaks of national pride and culture—all of which the crowd missed from the badly assembled sound system.

 

PHI vs MAC (5-0)

 

Fresh from the stupor caused by last Tuesday’s game, the 5-0 score in favor of the Azkals became quite a sterling moment for the melodic audience. With a sturdy defense and the high energy level displayed by majority of the players, Macau barely spent time near their side of the goal, giving GK Eduard Sacapano a breather for the evening.

 

3 goals courtesy of Denis Wolf, 2 of which came during the first half, came as quite an amazement, but then again, he has much to prove after numerous failed attempts during the Guam game. Other goals by Carlie de Murga and Patrick Reichelt were well felt by the audience, being Global FC faces.

The atmosphere during the Macau game has been more competitive, and the players seemed better adjusted with this type of set-up.

Out went Anto Gonzales, bringing in Reichelt as part of the starting 11. Ian Araneta and Denis Wolf resumed positions on the offense, the latter finally getting in the zone, leaving out Araneta as the stray dog. Kudos to the Coach for replacing him with OJ Porteria early on. Araneta needs to rest or eat, or both.

 

Newcomer Matthew Uy has been harshly criticized by the frivolous audience for size issues, but his performance proved otherwise. Excellent ball handling and amazing stamina—the guy managed to show potential and finally gained the confidence of the crowd.

Reichelt has been likewise spectacular on the pitch, while Porteria and Christiaens may have confusing hair-dos but with their fancy footwork, are just as promising players. It is still our hope that either will score a goal in future games.

With this recent victory, not only was the Younghusband issue buried, Phil and James themselves were forgotten, for now—which is a great step towards recognizing and introducing young talent. Christiaens, Porteria, and even Marwin Angeles would have smaller shadows in the spotlight had the Younghusbands taken center stage. With the Brits out frying their steaks, now’s the time to show Pilipinas what these kids are made of, and it’s not fish and chips.

 

PHI vs TPE (3-1) 

After a 99-year wait, the Philippine Azkals finally clinched the title as champion to the Peace Cup—a well-deserved triumph for their struggle and a fitting tribute to our very own, Pilipinas.

 

Amidst a backdrop of drama, a bit of rain and 3 goals, this was yet the most exciting match and the voluminously attended. Goal scorers were Wolf-Caligdong-Porteria, and credits to Porteria for his resilient attitude when his supposed first goal was ruled out.

 The Chinese Taipei side put up a combative spirit until the very last second of the game, but it was the Azkals’ persistent attempts that got them the lucky strikes (and goals).

An off field commotion gave players and viewers an unexpected water break, but for once, the “peace” theme was put to proper use as the dispute was laid to rest, Mr. Orange escorted to a place to meditate.

Agent Orange rocks the field with his wrathful fist.

They too think Agent Orange rocks.

While the Philippines bagged the overall title, individual awards were dished out to the Azkals as well. Once unidentified on the pitch, Matthew Uy has gained prominence for his ball handling skills, as he was named Best Midfielder, while Jeffrey Christiaens has been prancing his way to the Best Defender Award with his magnificent legwork and formidable tactics.

 

Peace, brother! Wait, that’s not Foster the People!

Prepping the field. PFF Rule #1: Bring out the multi-colored umbrella.

Who’s the fairest? Caligdong, Wolf, Uy, Sacapano and Christiaens.

Ironically though, for an event that leans on the peace concept, with the exception of Mr. Orange’s “peaceful” departure, not much can be said about the peace process. The post game ceremony, in particular, was too centered on the Philippines—efforts that far surpass the average level of patriotism—that other countries who have equal rights to the event looked a bit shunned from the media spotlight.

 Ah well, good thing I’m from Team Pilipinas.

Best Defender Award goes to Jeffrey Christiaens, and no this is not a typo.

And so we won

 With the introduction of new faces and less dependence on the more “senior” team members, we should set higher hopes on the growing and diverse team. The team may consistently be on a developmental path, but we are seeing fragments of improvement—a call that must be reciprocated with support, not rebuke.

With absentee Phil Younghusband, I wonder who signed that kid’s jersey.

The Azkals team will continue to be shrouded with media spectacle and blown up controversies, but underneath all these, they are a team that represents the country with pride, as reflected by the song Pilipinas by Tribu Calaminanen.

They work hard, they fight and struggle, and they believe—and so should we.

No red cards, fouls, lost teeth or broken fingers. Just a bandaged head and a bloody victory.

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