For those whose heads are stuck in the sand, our U23 Men's National Football Team are currently competing in the Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia. They lost their opening match to Vietnam, the group favorites, and then lost to Timor Leste in their succeeding fixture. The team was expected to defeat Timor Leste but it was evident the Timorese have also been busy themselves improving their quality of play. Boosted by some Timorese-Brazilians, they took advantage of our poor defense and got the three points. I was too bummed to write about the match against Timor Leste.
So two matches into our campaign we were the only team with no points on the table. Frustration and disappointment among the supporters was understandable. The U23s looked a promising bunch of players and there was reasonable expectation that they would reach the semis. However, things look bleak with the two opening defeats.
The lack of chemistry and fluidity was very evident. A number of the players based in Europe only flew in a day or two before the start of the tournament and were not well acquainted yet with the local based players in the squad. The defense in both matches was very suspect, and it is obvious that this area of their game needs a lot of improvement. The offense leaves much to be desired too though they did score a goal in each match. Still, one would think that if we had a crappy defense then at least have a strong offense so that for every goal scored against us we'd have the ability to score two in return. Well, it doesn't look that way gauging from those two matches.
To be fair to the team, they are a young bunch. More than half the squad will still be eligible for the next edition of this tournament in two years time. Just as long as the management and the training staff keep working on the issues and give these guys plenty of opportunities to get together and play competitive matches as a team, we can be optimistic of the future. These boys clearly need to be give the chance to gain experience and exposure in these types and level of competition. But that's for the future, there are still three matches left in this group stage.
Mathematically our U23s still have a chance, though it will also depend on the group leaders to slip up (though honestly, I find this doubtful). So the next three matches are a must-win for our team as hope always springs eternal, and if not, then at least for pride. Taking into account the big picture, winning the next matches are also what Philippine football needs to maintain the momentum it has obtained in the past year. While a good number of us Filipinos have already come to BELIEVE, there are still a number of skeptics out there who still a need a good reason to fully embrace this belief. Winning is crucial in this effort.
Which brings us to the U23s third match, against Laos. Like our neighbors in the region, Laos hasn't been standing idly by either and have also made comparable efforts to boost their youth squad. They have an Austrian coach and a young promising team. Like us, they are also obviously building for the future.
Our boys go into the match missing a key player, rightback Carli De Murga, due to suspension via yellow card accumulation. The coach maintained the same formation but tweaked with his starting eleven. We get off to a good start, taking the lead on the 7th minute courtesy of a Manny Ott goal. However, as the match wore on in the first half, the Laotians were starting to take control of the match. They were playing much better than we were, and gauging from my husband's body language and a few unprintable stuff coming out of his mouth, it appears our defensive issues were manifesting themselves once more. Sure enough the Laotians equalized on the 38th minute and go into the half even with the Philippines at 1-1.
Just like the match against Timor Leste, our team gives up a goal early in the second half and our team find themselves trailing once more. The Laotians continue to play better than our team and it wasn't that long before one of our players, Henrichsen, gets two yellow cards in the space of 5 minutes and gets sent off. We're down by one goal and now down a man too, bummer! I felt that second yellow card was kind of harsh. No point getting my husband's opinion on that one because in situations such as this I can't rely on him to be objective.
Well, it wasn't looking that good and it appeared that our team was headed to our third loss and remain at the bottom of the group table. Less than ten minutes to go, I was praying we'd at least salvage a draw. Then, as it so often happens in the game of football, the powers above have decided to remind us why we love this sport so much and with so much passion. The footballing Gods have decided to once again bang it into our heads why this is the beautiful game. Down one player, down a goal and playing with a leaky defense, our boys go on to win the match scoring a goal right at the end of regulation time to equalize and another to take the lead in added time and win the match. Amazing! We just snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The Laotians deserved to win that match, they played generally better and got a man advantage in the last 30 minutes of the match, but as they say in Spanish - "Es futbol!"
Just what the doctor ordered! A fantastic victory to restore belief, hope and pride. The team needed a win, we supporters needed a win, and to get a victory in this fashion - oh, it just feels so great.
Okay, chances to get to the semis still look dim, but after a match like that, so what. We have a young team and they just showed us that they got heart and passion. The poor defense and lack of chemistry, they can fix that. They can work on those. Heart and passion, that's something that can't be worked on in the training ground yet it is vital to any team. Well, our boys just showed us that got that vital ingredient. The future looks bright. Just what the doctor ordered indeed.
2011 Moira G Gallaga©