The local football scene recently raised a howl after what it deemed to be a “poor” showing that the national men’s football team, or “the Azkals,” had in a recent pocket tournament in Chinese Taipei.
A four-nation tournament among the Philippines, host Chinese-Taipei, Laos and Timor-Leste, the Chinese Taipei Football Association International Tournament took place from Dec. 1 to 5.
Due to availability issues, most of the mainstays of the Azkals, including coach Thomas Dooley and manager Dan Palami, were not able to join the tournament, prompting the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) to send a team that featured young talents from the collegiate leagues and joined by some members of the national team and players from the Philippines Football League.
The Azkals got their campaign in Taiwan to a good start, beating Laos, 3-1, before dropping their last two assignments to Chinese-Taipei, 3-0, and Timor-Leste, 1-0, to finish with a 1-2 record.
Some fans and stakeholders viewed the result as unacceptable for it negated, they said, the significant headway that Philippine football has made in the last half decade.
They also said it also put the Azkals’ good standing in the world rankings to a bad light considering that of the four teams we had the highest ranking at 118.
The loss to 196th-ranked Timor-Liste was further magnified as it came on the seventh anniversary of the “Miracle in Hanoi” where the Philippines upset Vietnam in the AFF Suzuki Cup which pretty much set off the resurgence of football in the country.
On the other end, some sectors of the local football community downplayed the significance of the Azkals’ showing in Taiwan, choosing instead not to be an “alarmist” and take it in stride.
They argue that the team that competed was not the Azkals in full strength and that foremost it was used by the PFF to give young players the opportunity to compete in an international tournament in the hopes that they get to learn from it and use it when their numbers are called down the line.
This space is not out to dispute the differing trains of thought over the Azkals’ Taiwan tournament result for they make good cases from themselves.
Instead what I would like to see is that for the football community to use it as a rallying point to come together and reassess how affairs on the sport can be improved moving forward.
Bigger challenges obviously lie ahead for the Azkals and our football officials and if in such a case they cannot get their minds in concert, I do not know how we can expect them to really be one when things get further complicated.
So here is hoping that eventually this issue gets a positive ending with Philippine football as the winner.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.