IN THE last edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2016 which the country co-hosted, the Philippine men’s national football team did not have it good, failing to advance beyond the group stage and effectively ended a string of three straight semifinal appearances in the biennial regional tournament.
This year though, the Philippine Azkals made sure there was no early exit for them, banking on a tremendous effort that has been fuelled by tremendous heart and desire to assure themselves of a spot in the next round.
Finishing second in Group B in the first round of the Suzuki Cup with two wins and two drawn matches, the Azkals moved to the two-leg crossover semifinals against Group A top team Vietnam.
It has not been a perfect campaign for the team but the Azkals have been delivering, showing a concerted conscious effort to fight for one another and making the country proud.
“I like our team, I like it very much, we have a lot of good football players and we are playing with a big heart. I’m proud of the team, we qualified and had a good game against Indonesia,” Philippine coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was quoted as saying by the official AFF Suzuki Cup Web site following their nil-nil draw with Indonesia last time around that assured them of a spot in the semifinals.
The World Cup coach went on to say said that they still have to work on facets of their game heading into their match with Vietnam and shared that they will use the week-long break before the semifinals to address whatever concerns they may have.
“(The match against) Vietnam is in one week and we look forward to that. It’s good for all the players that the game is next Sunday because we need these days to and adjust and recover,” he said.
For Azkals forward Patrick Reichelt, apart from all-out effort that their team is showing, what is doing for them is everybody in the team is on the same page as far as what they want to accomplish and are doing the things needed to achieve it.
“Everybody is fighting for the next guy. There’s a lot of communication on the pitch and positive screaming and encouragement, I feel this year we have a good group,” he said.
It is something that Mr. Reichelt said they hope to continue doing as they take on a strong team like Vietnam, which has yet to drop a game in the ongoing tournament.
The first leg of the semifinals between Vietnam and the Philippines is on Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City with the second leg slated for Dec. 6 in Hanoi.
The game on Sunday, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m., will be shown live over ESPN5 and livestream over ESPN5.com. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo