Another 90 Minutes More (Philippines v Singapore - 2012 Suzuki Cup Semis)

After a pretty good group stage performance against tough opponents, the Philippine Men's National Football Team a.k.a. The Azkals have once again made it to the semi-final round of the AFF Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia's most prestigious football tournament. For the 3rd time this year the Azkals face Singapore, though this time in a competitive 2-legged fixture with a lot at stake - a place in the finals.

This semi-final first leg was also billed as the "home match that never was" in reference to the missed opportunity of our country to host our national team for the home leg of our semi-final fixtures against Indonesia in 2010. Well, our boys finally made it happen and created this opportunity to play in front of the supporters and the fans. Rizal was nearly packed and everyone at the stadium was eager to relish this opportunity to support our boys on this momentous occasion in Philippine football.

The match ended in a scoreless draw after a forgettable first half where the Philippines were clearly outplayed by Singapore and they couldn't get any semblance of an offense going. As it was in the group stages, our defense has been the most positive aspect of this Suzuki Cup campaign so far. There were a few nervy moments but over-all our defense held firm and as it was in the group stage, goalkeeper Ed Sacapano proved pretty steady between those goalposts. It was a much better performance by the Azkals in the second half, exhibiting improved cohesion and fluidity in their offensive game. It wasn't enough to get a goal and they had better step it up in the second leg if they wish to go further in this tournament. On a positive note, the Azkals managed another clean sheet, their third in this tournament. More importantly, this means that the Philippines had denied Singapore an away goal.

Of course, a win and a definite advantage heading into the second leg would have been the ideal result, considering the team was playing in front of its home fans. That would have been an ideal result and a good gift to the supporters considering how long Philippine fans and supporters have been waiting for a moment like this, given the significance of the fixture. Then again, Singapore is no push over. They have experience, are 3 time champions of this tournament and have been in this situation before. So if a win wasn't possible, a scoreless draw is the next desirable result.

This is the beauty of 2-legged home and away fixtures with the away goals rule in effect. It creates various scenarios and raises many factors, making for some very interesting matches. The result of the first match will most likely influence the tactics, strategy and approach to the second match and it's quite fascinating to see how coaches, players and teams deal with the situation.

At the end of the match both coaches seem pleased with the result. Singapore is looking forward to playing at home, confident that with the support of their fans they will be able to beat the Azkals and advance to the finals. While the Philippines may be playing on "hostile" ground in the second leg, we only need a scoring draw to advance due to the away goals rule, which Singapore failed to secure in the first leg. As things stand, the Philippines is still very much in it.

In this type of fixture, the 2nd leg at home is usually favored by a team which is why those who topped the group stage get to play the second leg at home. However, it could get difficult and a team could find itself under greater pressure if things don't go as planned. All it will take is an early goal for the Philippines and Singapore will suddenly find itself under pressure to score 2 goals to stay in the competition. As 3 times winners, Singapore has the added factor of dealing with the expectations of their supporters. Also, even if Singapore gets to score first, they cannot take it easy. An equalizer from our team and they are headed for the exit once more.

Singapore will need to go out for the win. This will enable the Philippines to be patient, to stay compact in defense and try to take advantage on the counter. Singapore will be obliged to push up and attack, and what I am starting to envision in my mind is that second goal in the Myanmar match by Angel Guirado. Score first and preferably score early and things should look good for the Philippines. Of course, in order to do this they need to play with more energy and precision than they did on Saturday night. Then again, I'm sure they know that by now.

Singapore will be relying on their experience (coach, players) in this competition, their quality, better cohesion and the support of the home crowd. It is a daunting challenge for the Azkals to face. Then again, the Azkals merely need a scoring draw to advance to the finals. They could use this to their advantage. Furthermore, the Azkals are a mere 90 minutes away from achieving another milestone not only in their respective careers, but for Philippine football as well. As Dan Palami so eloquently put it, "the Philippines intend to write its own history." The opportunity for both the veterans and young guns in our team to write themselves into the history books once more and build a legacy will be a strong source of motivation that should help them overcome the challenges they will face this coming Wednesday. 

This Suzuki Cup campaign has shown that the Philippines is a second half team. It takes a while for the Azkals to get going, to get their bearings and start stamping their mark in the match. In the friendly against Singapore in Cebu and in the 3 group stage matches, the Azkals scored all their goals in the second half. The quality of their play improves as the match progresses in the second half. A 2- legged fixture is basically a match of 2 halves and the second 90 minutes kicks off on Wednesday. So come on Philippines, let's go Azkals, you are 90 minutes away from achieving further glory - WE BELIEVE!

10 December 2012, Moira G Gallaga©


Azkals are back in the Suzuki Cup 2012 Semifinals

It is said that "lightning never strikes twice," and I agree. In 2010, the Philippine Men's National Football Team, a.k.a. the Azkals, shocked Southeast Asian football by reaching the semifinals of that year's AFF Suzuki Cup. In that impressive campaign, the Azkals drew with powerhouse Singapore and defeated defending champion Vietnam 2-0 to forge a semifinal showdown with Indonesia. Considering the status then of the Philippines as the perennial whipping boy in Southeast Asian football, that achievement was a like a bolt of lightning. It also served as that all-important spark that has brought about a football renaissance in the Philippines.

In this 2012 edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup the Azkals have once again successfully hurdled the group stage and booked themselves a place in the semifinals. However, unlike in 2010, this wasn't any longer like a bolt of lightning. It wasn't a shocking development anymore. In fact, the team had set their sights on the semis as a reasonable target for their Suzuki Cup campaign. Not only the team, but their opponents as well felt that the Azkals had what it takes to make the semifinals. That's because in between the last and current Suzuki Cup a lot has changed in Philippine football for the better.

Following an aggressive effort to step up the quality and effectiveness of the Philippine National Football Team and football in the Philippines in general, the Azkals have achieved several notable milestones. It's quite a list of achievements, and as a result, the Azkals have garnered considerable respect and esteem from their opponents. We now have a deeper bench and our team is slowly starting to play at a higher technical level as opposed to just simply defending with their lives and hoping for an opportunity on the counter. So for the Philippines to reach the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup twice in a row is no longer surprising, it was well deserved.

Photo via interaksyon.com
Finding themselves in a "group of death," the Azkals' campaign started off with a 2-1 loss to Thailand. In a highly physical match, the Thais did all they could legally and illegally to grab 3 points against our team. They weren't taking any chances with the Azkals. Despite the shenanigans, the Thais deserved their win. They were the better team that night and they showed to one and all that they were favorites to reach the final by winning all their group stages to top the group. The battered Azkals could take heart from the fact that they kept the match close with the toughest opponent in the group and that the chance to progress was still there.

In this group stage, the second match is the most crucial. The result of your second match will have a major bearing on your team's ability to proceed to the next round. For the Philippines, a loss in their second match means the end of our Suzuki Cup campaign. We needed to beat Vietnam. Since they drew with Myanmar in their opening match, Vietnam needed a win as well to ensure their path to the semifinals. Both teams could not afford to lose and it clearly showed in the first half. Tentative and cautious, both sides several mistakes in possession. You would think the two teams were trying to outdo each other in number of bad passes made. In the second half, Vietnam started to settle into a rhythm and began asserting control. Philippines respond by making a few substitutions. With time slowly running out, the first team to score a goal was going to win that match. That goal comes in the 85th minute for the Philippines and it couldn't have been scripted any better. Following a poor performance in the match against Thailand, Azkal veteran Chieffy Caligdong comes in as a late substitute and scores the winning goal off a lovely pass from another substitute, Angel Guirado. Two minutes later, Vietnam almost equalizes but was denied by goalkeeper Ed Sacapano whose timely block sends the ball crashing to the crossbar and away from goal. Three points for the Philippines.

With their fate firmly in their hands, the Azkals just needed to deal with Myanmar for their last fixture in this group stages. While Myanmar may have been considered the weakest among the Azkals' opponents in this group, they were a dangerous team quite capable of causing an upset. Furthermore, the Philippines had yet to beat Myanmar based on their recent competitive encounters, the last ending in a draw. As the match progressed, the Philippines showed a lot of heart and a clear intent to win this one. Phil Younghusband in particular was on a mission to make amends for tepid performances in the first 2 matches and has several attempts at goal in the first half. The defense held firm and any Myanmar offensive forays were dealt with effectively. A little over a minute into the second half Phil Younghusband scores a wonderful goal to put the Philippines ahead and place one foot into the semifinals. Myanmar started to push forward and attack more aggressively as their hopes to reach the semis were fading away by the minute. This left space behind Myanmar's defensive line and on the 93rd minute, Angel Guirado takes advantage. Running onto a clearance from Carli De Murga, Angel gets to the ball, controls it, keeps a defender at bay and coolly finishes sealing the victory.

In addition to making it to the semifinals, the group stage campaign showed that we have a solid defense. While a lot of improvement had been achieved by our team in terms of quality of play, our opponents are still a few notches above us so our defense plays a very crucial role with regard to our chances of going further in this tournament. It is also heartening to note that Ed Sacapano has been dependable in goal for the Azkals. There was quite a bit of apprehension when news started filtering in before the tournament that our Europe based keepers could not make it. Ed Sacapano showed everyone there was nothing to worry about. Chieffy Caligdong showed once again during the Vietnam match why he still continues to be part of the team. His time on the pitch may now be slowly diminishing but his value to the team remains high. Following a slow start, Phil Younghusband appears to be peaking at the right time. Not his usual effective self in the matches against Thailand and Vietnam, he's found his confidence and form once again in the Myanmar match and this is good for the Azkals. A deep bench, a combination of seasoned veterans with valuable experience and young guns with hunger and desire, the Azkals has deservedly earned a spot in the semifinals where they will face Singapore. 

The team has set the semifinals as their goal, they have achieved that now. For sure, they are now busy working hard to go beyond that goal and the prospects look good. There is no room for complacency though. While we may have beaten Singapore twice just recently, friendly and competitive fixtures are two different matters altogether. Also, this is a two-legged affair so the approach and mentality is a lot different than a single winner take all match. Just the same, I would fancy our chances. We've gone this far, why not go even further? Let's go Azkals! WE BELIEVE!!!

02 December 2012, Moira G Gallaga©


The "Right" Decision (Philippine AZKALS beats Singapore...Again)

During his man of the match interview after the Philippines beat Singapore 1-0 in Cebu, goalkeeper Ed Sacapano was asked on his thoughts about the 1st half injury time penalty given to Singapore. Sacapano more or less said that he would go to the right on this one. It turned out to be the right decision as Sacapano saved that penalty to keep the match level at the end of the first half.

For me, that injury time penalty save by Sacapano was a turning point for the match given the context of that penalty decision. The referee botched the penalty call, Christaens didn't commit a foul and it was the Singaporean who slammed into Christaens as he lost his footing. If Singapore scored that penalty it would have been unfair. So what if they were playing very well and dominating the match in that first half. Our team did a good job as well in keeping them at bay, playing solid and compact defense. Philippines didn't deserve to go one goal down at the dying minutes of the first half due to a bad call by the referee. Considering Singapore's dominant play, giving up a late goal at the end of the half would have had quite a demoralizing effect on the team as they would head into the second half chasing the game. Good thing Sacapano stepped up and kept our team in the fight, definitely a man of the match moment. That save could have been that all important boost to the team's confidence and spirit that gave them the feeling that, yes, this is going to be our night.

Sacapano's penalty save was crucial in terms of its potential impact to both sets of players at a mental, psychological and emotional level. Keeping the scores level at halftime was important. Sacapano chose to go to the right and the second half of the match was a much different affair than the first.

In football, there are 2 big words often used when it comes to players: form and confidence. You can more or less track form using statistics and keenly observing match-day performances over a period of time. I hear big-time clubs in Europe even have computer programs for this purpose. Confidence is a whole lot trickier; it is mainly psychological, mental and emotional. It's in the player's head and not so easy to get inside of, but its value is never underestimated as confidence can spell a major difference on the field of play. 

The match showed these 2 factors at work. The effect was evident as the second half started to get underway. When the Philippines went ahead, it was no longer in doubt that victory was highly possible. If the Philippines was oozing in confidence by the second half, that's because our guy at goal had it in abundance. When Sacapano saved that penalty, he probably felt that that ball was not going to get past him that evening. His 2 other equally impressive diving saves from free kicks later in the match validates that assumption. 

It’s quite timely too that Sacapano exhibited tremendous form and confidence in this match. As we all know, this friendly against Singapore is the final tune up match of the Philippines before it heads off for its 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign starting 27 November. There's high hopes for this team to replicate its 2010 Suzuki Cup achievement of reaching the semifinals. The possibility also exists that this team could go all the way. But before all of that, we face some very tough opponents in the group stage. That is why the absence of our Europe based players has raised a little bit of concern. Their presence provides added quality and high level match experience to the team.

Among the absences, most notable will be our goalkeepers. Since the Suzuki Cup is not on the FIFA calendar, clubs are not obliged to release players for international duty and both Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller have club commitments during that period. There is no confirmation yet if they will be able to make it to the tournament or even just be able to play in a match or two. 

Photo via philnews.ph
This situation leaves us with our third choice goalkeeper, Ed Sacapano. Looking back at his performance against Singapore and the Peace Cup, he just needs to keep up that sort of form and confidence throughout the Suzuki Cup campaign and we should be relishing our chances. Of course, his team mates have to step up as well, though the team's performances over the series of matches organized to prepare the team for the Suzuki Cup shows that our neighbors don’t take us too lightly. 
It’s also good to see we now have a deeper bench as well with a large number of quality players now locally based. Before, Coach Weiss had limited options for substitutions. Before it appeared that substitutions were made mainly to put in fresh legs and to just hang in there, and even then he rarely made these changes. Now he can make a number of changes without sacrificing quality and even create a decisive impact on the match. For a tournament like the Suzuki Cup that involves a group stage playing 3 matches with only 2 days rest in between, a deep bench is crucial as injuries, match suspension and fatigue are a constant concern. 

This friendly victory over Singapore is a good setting from which to kick off our Men's National Football Team's Suzuki Cup campaign. A well fought victory over a tough opponent, a number of players brimming with confidence and in good form, and a deeper bench should provide our team a decent chance at a good showing.

Make no mistake, this will not be easy. We are in a tough group. While our team has made tremendous strides and very notable improvement in the past 2 years, our neighbors haven't been standing still either. Remember, this is football and anything can happen.

For now, let's just sit back for now to enjoy and savor the victory against Singapore that was brought about in no small measure by Sacapano's right decision to go right on that penalty kick. By the week after next we'll be back in front of our televisions again, nervously and excitedly watching and hoping that our players, our Coach and the referees are making the right decisions.

16 November 2012, Moira G Gallaga©


Diplo-travel tales: Adventure in Morocco

The first day of the trip seemed to be going off without a hitch. I was late to the airport but knew that I’ll make my flight on the nick of time. Security was not too bad and they passed me through without hassle. I’m now just hanging out in the lounge, playing with my laptop, passing the time until my flight leaves. I love to people-watch whenever I’m in a public area. Maybe it is part of our training or simply out of habit borne of a curious mind; my husband and I are always aware of our environment wherever we are. There are three shady looking men who seem to be staring at me as I type. I’m a woman and I travel alone, maybe they find that strange. I would love to send you pictures of those people, but that would probably have been weird and would have drawn more attention to myself if I just popped out my blackberry phone camera to take snapshots of strangers.

Rooftop of Palais Namaskar
It might be a bit difficult to capture all of life’s realities while on a trip, but I know I can at least capture my own experience. A small comfort for me is that in my quest to contribute to society, I am not betraying anybody by trying to use them as a case study without their knowledge. Hopefully, somebody will read this and if one person’s mood can be brightened by my musings, then this is all worth it.

I don’t really have a poignant reason for penning this memoir; I just want to do something therapeutic for myself while leaving a trail of words that somebody might find entertaining.

One thing I’m sure of is that it is exciting for a woman to travel alone. It is a wonderful feeling having the sense of independence that travelling alone gives us, even if it is just going to a spa for the weekend. It doesn’t matter how far the destination or how mundane, when you travel by yourself as a woman it gives you an amazing sense of independence and everything tastes sweeter and the air feels nicer. I do have to say though, that the more unfamiliar the place, the more of a thrill it is. When you travel to a far land alone there are so many adventures to have, so much to add to your life’s notebook of experiences. The more confidence you show, the better the time. It truly matters what kind of attitude you take with the experience. The more courage you exhibit with each new experience, the more badges you allow yourself to wear. Every single trip that I take alone continues to feed my motto of ‘living on the edge,’ and I revel in it.

Being assigned at Washington, DC was an amazing experience.I have travelled with no problem through large parts of Europe and those little nooks included in travel warning advisories such as Cuba.

At the moment, I’m now at Reagan National Airport waiting for my flight to Morocco via Royal Air Maroc. Yes, I’m on my way to Morocco as I decided to take things up a notch. The spontaneity of not knowing exactly what the next destination holds can be sublime. I know I’m going to Morocco and I have an idea of the places I want to visit but there is no definite schedule and I am always open to experiencing everything the country has to offer.

Whenever I think about the passing of time that I can’t control, taking a leave for a trip alone can be very therapeutic. It can be just the thing to help me find myself and who I am becoming with each passing day. Women can get so caught up in being the caregiver; the mom, the doting wife, the career woman who keeps the office together, etc. There is another identity underneath all that, our own identity; our identity as independent women who have much to contribute to the world besides being all of those mentioned above.

Marrakech Downtown. I'm not good in taking pictures.

More women have found how healing travelling alone can be. It lets you relax and take everything in. It takes you away from making sure everybody else has everything to just making sure that your own needs are met. It lets you be more open with people and allows you to express yourself - it reacquaints you with you; who you are underneath all of the labels. To any woman who reads this, please remember that though reconnecting with yourself and finding your independence is a wonderful experience, it is not one to flaunt in every part of the world. If you familiarize yourself with the rules and traditions of your destination, then you can enjoy your independence with safety. Before embarking on an adventure, do check the travel.state.gov’s site for the latest advisories and that includes necessary health information, required vaccinations, customs and traditions; and do’s and don’ts.

to be continued…


Facing Life's Challenges

Life can test an individual's will in a great variety of ways; either by having absolutely nothing happening or by having everything occurs all at one time.

We are forced to fight numerous battles throughout our lives.  There are times when we are too reliant upon others to save us. Other times, there is simply too much happening at one time for us to take care of it all.  What you are going through at any one moment should never determine what will happen over the course of your life.

The road ahead is going to be tough. There will be bumps, bends and everything in between. But I’ll keep my eyes steady, and my heart ready.

For many individuals there are a lot of challenges in life.  Many people choose to develop a very negative world view because they always seem to go through periods of their lives in which they don't have enough; nothing is going their way; or there is simply too much going on for them to handle.

Through all these, we must continue to maintain our sense of honor, stay true to our principles and possess an indomitable spirit. Work hard in life each and every day, and also work hard in specific life areas consistently.  If we do not, we will only improve in short spans and can never attain optimal growth due to the fact that growth will sometimes stop, unless we start investing more effort into that particular area.

"Bad days are inevitable, but that doesn't mean you should shut doors and dim your light. Even the best trip up sometime."

Moira G Gallaga©

Read the Poem - "Destiny And Character" by Moira Gallaga

Read the Poem - "Destiny And Character" by Moira Gallaga:

'via Blog this'


Nanny in a Coma - Motive in Killings Remains a Mystery - NYTimes.com

Nanny in a Coma - Motive in Killings Remains a Mystery - NYTimes.com:

Scary and troublesome. We experienced our 2 1/2 yr old son abandoned by his nanny in our apartment in L.A. with the door unlocked. Our prayers to the parents of these kids.

'via Blog this'


Philippine Football Peace Cup Champions: AZKALS

Congratulations to the Philippine Azkals for winning the Philippine Football Peace Cup. Another milestone and a step forward for Philippine football. While the Azkals were overwhelming favorites for this tournament, they still needed to prove that point nonetheless and they did so emphatically and convincingly.

Three wins, 9 goals scored in 3 matches and conceding only one goal was quite a strong message sent out by our team. It wasn't just about winning their matches; it was also about the manner in which they were won - with near total dominance. It was a joy to watch our team play that way. Okay, the fluffed chances in front of goal, especially in the match against Guam, was a bit frustrating at times. However, the way our midfield controlled the match, dictated the tempo and ensured that our makeshift backline wasn't troubled too much was a welcome change from our usual backs to the wall and spirited style of play. It's a sign of progress and it was vital that this point was made.

While many among us will be savoring this victory and achievement, there are unfortunately those who claim all this is irrelevant due to the low quality of the opposition. Yet that is where the emphatic and dominating performance of our team smashes that argument. Since when has the Philippine national football team dominated and steamrollered opponents in those manner? The Azkals were expected to win this tournament, and they did. In addition to meeting that expectation, they also proved clearly that the progress and achievements since 2010 is not a fluke. 

Notwithstanding the low quality opposition, a look at our team will also show that this was more of a "B" team. Many of our pedigreed players from Europe weren't present, along with a number of veterans. Our defense was makeshift, with only one regular center back who was suffering from a groin injury and didn't even get to play in the crucial final match. Several young players, with emphasis on young, got their first official cap in this tournament. Yet the team acquitted themselves very well and showed how deep our bench has become and that there is quality back-up available if the regular veterans are not available.

Photo via interaksyon.com
No, the naysayers can't take away the satisfaction this victory has given us Pinoy football fans. Also, this wasn't just about the feel-good factor of being champions and preparations for a much bigger prize, the AFF Suzuki Cup. This was also about the future. A number of the young players who shone in this tournament will be crucial in helping sustain the progress Philippine football is making, in battling for our flag and colors in campaigns to come. 

Of course, they have yet to be tested against tougher opponents and that's what the Bahrain training camp and the matches against Bahrain, Kuwait and Singapore are for, to toughen them up and prepare them for the much more difficult opponents they'll be facing in the Suzuki Cup. 

In the meantime, let's all enjoy this moment and thank you Philippine Azkals. We are the Peace Cup Champions! Campeones, campeones! Oe! Oe! Oe!

30 September 2012, Moira G Gallaga©



As part for the preparations of the upcoming AFF 2012 Suzuki Cup tournament, the Philippine Men’s National Football Team also known as the Azkals engaged in a series of friendlies away from home against Cambodia, Singapore and Laos from 5-10 September 2012.

A scoreless draw against Cambodia, a historic win 0-2 wins against Singapore and a 2-1 loss to Laos. Notwithstanding the fantastic win versus Singapore, I’d hate to say that this was a disappointing campaign. I don’t think I’m the only one around saying we should have done better. True, these are essentially practice matches in preparation for the main objective (Suzuki Cup) and a whole lot of lessons were probably learned, but the team could have definitely done a whole lot better. I’m sure the coaching staff and the players know and feel that way as well.

It is interesting to note that the Azkals’ victory was in the match where they were the acknowledged underdogs, and they played really well in that match. Special mention goes to Stephan Schroeck who was a cut above everyone else. Yet in the matches where they were favored to win, they drew one and lost the other. While the Cambodia match was disappointing, it wasn’t that bad compared to the Laos match as the Azkals were very much in control of the match. It was a matter of lousy finishing and missed chances. Against Laos, they let the gamesmanship and bad calls get to them in addition to failing to take control of the match and dominate. Despite the dodgy stuff, the Laotians played fairly well and made things difficult for the Azkals in contrast to the Cambodians.

Photo via interaksyon.com
As there is no point in crying over spilled milk, we might as well dwell on the lessons and points this series of friendlies have highlighted. There’s a number of them, and whether you may agree with me or not, here’s what I think:

·         The Younghusband and Guirado brothers continue to be important members of the national team. Given their contribution at the recent AFC Challenge Cup, one wonders how these friendlies would have turned out if the Guirado brothers were available to play. The absence of the Younghusband brothers in the Laos match and their contribution in the Singapore victory clearly points out how valuable they are to the team.

·      Denis Wolf and Patrick Reichelt provide added depth to the team’s offensive options. This is good to have, especially in tournaments where a series of matches are played within a few days. Depth of the squad and ability to bring in fresh players without sacrificing the quality on the pitch are among the keys to success. However, they need to work on their finishing. The team needs to be more efficient in front of goal.

·         Stephan Shroeck is a game changer, top class and excellent quality. Problem is, will he be available during the Suzuki Cup?

·    Chieffy is slowly finding form and hopefully the big number of matches lined up before the Suzuki Cup should help him be at his best when the tournament starts.

·         Our defense is shallow and aging. Juani Guirado and Dennis Cagara are needed to provide added depth to our defensive options. While Aly Borromeo is on the mend, it will take a while for him to get back to his previous imperious form. I have my doubts if he will be fully ready when the Suzuki Cup starts. He may be fit to play by then but probably won’t be 100% in terms of the quality we expect from him.

·         Converting Jeffrey Christaens into a left back appears to be promising. However, this is for the long term as more time and experience will be needed for Christaens to grow into this new role. For the Suzuki Cup, I’d like to see Ray Jonsson and Dennis Cagara cover this spot.

·   As shown by the Laos match, the Azkals need to learn how to deal with efforts of their opponent to get into their heads. They are no longer underdogs now and weaker teams will likely try to disrupt the Azkals’ game and cause them to lose their composure in the match to even things up a bit on the pitch.

I’m sure there are more points and lessons from this ASEAN Tour but the ones above are what stick out prominently for me. The upcoming Peace Cup this month will be another good opportunity for the Azkals to get ready for the Suzuki Cup. I hope they do better on that tournament than they did in their ASEAN Tour.

10 September 2012, Moira G Gallaga©


Home Ground – Football Stadium in Philippines

A bit of news being passed around several months ago was House Bill 4298, which appropriates 300 million pesos for the construction of a 75,000-capacity world-class football stadium in the Philippines. Now that's quite an ambitious goal but if carried out properly, it would be a good development for the Philippine football community.

We would have a proper home ground for our national football teams. A 75,000-capacity stadium is huge. If we could fill that, it will be quite an experience, not only for the spectators but for the players as well. I have been to the Bernabeu, home ground of Real Madrid, and watched a few matches there. It is an 80,000-capacity stadium. Around the globe, it’s not the only one of that size. Close to us, there’s the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta; an 88,000- capacity stadium; Estadio Azteca in Mexico City accommodates 104,000 spectators; Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo in Ecuador; 83,000-stadium capacity; Westfalenstadiun in Germany; 80,000-stadium capacity; Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul; 75,000-stadium capacity; Japan, Seoul and others also have their fair share of high capacity football stadiums.

It would be truly great for us to have something like that for Philippine football here. A venue for international matches and premiere football fixtures that we could be proud of and where we can derive maximum enjoyment from the experience of watching a live football match.

Rizal Memorial Stadium. Photo via bleachersbrew
Furthermore, a world-class stadium and venue for football would enhance our Federation's ability to attract high profile teams to play here and increase our chances of securing rights to hosting tournaments. In turn, these events provide revenue streams for the Federation and the country. They also provide opportunity for us to not only raise the profile of Philippine football domestically but internationally as well as these matches are usually huge media events. The bigger the teams involved, the larger the media profile, exposure, and it also becomes a pretty good occasion for projecting a positive image of our country.

I fully agree with the objective of establishing a world-class home ground for our national teams. This is a logical step forward in the development of football in the Philippines.

Now, whether 300 million pesos will be enough to fund a world-class 75,000-capacity football stadium remains to be seen. Personally, I think that will not be enough for a proper stadium of that size. However, if Congress appropriates the money for that purpose and allows some form of partnership with a local government unit and/or private investors, now we're looking at something feasible. It's a starting point and the online community of Philippine football supporters and advocates has been discussing this development at length. There are lots of pros and cons involved and some very valuable and interesting insights have been raised and debated in those discussions.

I find merit in the debate concerning the size of the stadium. Going for 75,000 seating capacity might be a bit premature at this stage. Large capacity means larger income and lower prices, but there are other factors involved too such as accessibility, supporting infrastructure, etc. Some have suggested 30-40,000 capacity and that might be worth looking into.

The size of the stadium is critical as this not only impacts the cost to build it and then maintain once it is operational, it also impacts the question on where it should be located. The latest bit of news on this topic noted that at the House Committee hearing they couldn't agree on where the stadium should be located. In online discussions there was spirited debate on this matter also. Clark has been mentioned, and so has the reclamation area in the vicinity of the Mall of Asia in southern Metro Manila with regard to NCR. Of course, there also advocates for locating the stadium in the traditional hotbeds of the sport in this country, in Western Visayas. Bukidnon and Davao also get mentioned on behalf of Mindanao.

Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City
My take on this issue is that if this is to be the home ground of our national football teams, then it should be in the vicinity of NCR or Clark. My consideration here is in relation to international matches. At the moment, most international flights go through the Metro Manila airports. This will be a factor for teams coming to play here, and it will facilitate matters if we make it as convenient for them as possible.

Of course, I would not want the other provinces to be neglected. I'd say let regions also have their own stadiums and this should be in fact be part of the over-all long-term plan. I only favor NCR or Clark in terms of the home ground for the national football teams.

Another relevant point of discussion is whether to build one from scratch or to rehabilitate and/or renovate existing ones such as Rizal Memorial Football Stadium and Panaad Stadium in Bacolod. This is a practical option also and may even provide better value for the money appropriated for the purpose. A sort of two stadiums for the price of one deal. UMAK was mentioned in discussions on this topic. However, I think the City of Makati has more than enough resources to fix up the UMAK football grounds and stadium.

There are other points of consideration too, such as parking issues and infrastructure in relation to access to the location, amenities, services, etc. There is also the issue of sustainability and maintenance costs.

The good thing is that the bill is still in the committee level at the House of Representatives, which means it isn't final and hearings are being conducted to debate the merits of the proposed legislation and perhaps fine-tune its provisions. This means there is opportunity to thresh out details to help ensure that this bill is properly crafted. That it will have the necessary provisions to ensure the effective implementation of efforts aimed at achieving the goal of building a truly world class high capacity football stadium. Perhaps the House Committee on Youth and Sports Development should study some of the points and issues raised in the discussions in relation to the building of a football stadium. Public hearings or town hall type of consultations with the football community at large should enhance the work of the Committee in getting this bill passed.

Seating Chart, Rizal Memorial Stadium. Photo via bleachersbrew

You see, there is still a long process ahead before this bill is passed and the possibility still exists that the bill may not even prosper. It is important that attention to details and proper studies are conducted so that the merits of the bill are strong enough for it to be passed into law.

As supporters, we love the passion we feel for this game. Part of that passion stems from the strong emotions that football tends to bring out in all of us and the need to defend our turf or home ground is one of the strongest emotion or feeling that we all possess. We've got a taste of this at Panaad and at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. So if Congress is looking to give us a bigger taste of defending our home ground with a proper stadium, whether it is Panaad, Rizal or a totally new stadium, then let's go for it.

2012 Moira G Gallaga©


Home and Away: Azkals vs Indonesia

It was supposed to be a friendly but one couldn't be faulted for thinking there was a lot more at stake. A bench clearing fracas and 3 red cards surely added to the passion and tension on the field of play. Well, considering that pride was at stake and both sides had points to prove, that alone ups the ante considerably. A rivalry in the making perhaps? I wouldn't mind at all, because to be embroiled in a football rivalry is a sign that our national team is being taken seriously by its opponent.

In the end, the Philippine - Indonesia match ended in a 2-2 draw. For us, this was supposed to be the payback for the home game we never had against the Indonesians at the semifinals of the 2010 Suzuki Cup, though it wasn't the Indonesia's fault our team had to face a hostile environment twice. You can thank the previous regime at the PFF for that debacle. Indonesia beat us on both legs 1-0 and the "what if we had one leg of that semi played at home" has been foremost on most minds of Filipino football supporters. The Tuesday night clash against Indonesia at home was expected to provide an answer, some form of closure to that lingering question out of the recent past. Never mind that our national team, the Azkals, have come a long way from then, achieved historical milestones for Philippine football and improved considerably over a short period of time. Never mind if the current teams are so different from the ones that clashed 2 years ago. No, this was a time of reckoning for the Philippines, payback of some sort.

Indonesia on the other hand had more current concerns and a much different point to prove coming into this clash. That Suzuki Cup semis 2 years ago for them was likely a thing of the past. They have bigger problems" at the moment. They run the risk of missing out on the 2012 Suzuki Cup this year due to off-field problems that could find their Federation suspended from international competitions. Problems brought about by a rift in their domestic league has spilled over and affected their national team. As a result, they have a very young squad and one very much different that lost to Malaysia at the Suzuki Cup finals 2 years ago. You wouldn't be too far off if you described the Indonesian football situation as one in turmoil. For the Indonesians, this match was about making a statement that they are still in contention that they are still among Southeast Asia's (pardon the pun) top dogs despite their off-field problems.

Photo via interaksyon.com

So the stage was set, 2 teams out to make a statement. A strong and vastly improved Philippine team with almost all key players available, facing a slightly young and inexperienced Indonesian side. The script for this dramatic clash was calling for a victory for the Philippine side; all the elements were in place for such a result. Well, that's football for you and the beauty of this game, it doesn't follow scripts. This game loves to throw monkey wrenches into well laid out plans and scenarios, and whether we know it or not, is most probably the reason why we all love this game so much.

As it turned out, our Azkals had to fight back and display that dogged (this time pun intended) determination once again to equalize twice to come out with a draw for this match. What was hoped to be a moment of glory turned out to be a sigh of relief. We could have won this match, we should have but we didn't. A Philippine victory over Indonesia in football will have to wait until the next opportunity we face them.

Disappointing, perhaps yes because our team were clearly dominant this time, had better percentage of ball possession and more numerous and better chances at goal. Wait, the Philippines dominated and controlled most of the match had more shots at goal and greater ball possession against Indonesia? Well, that's new. Not only that, our Coach fiddled around with the line-up and had 4 starters on the bench for the first half and put in 2 young kids (Ott and Angeles) in charge of holding central midfield.

People would say that it was weak Indonesia team, yet they led twice and we needed to grab a draw to salvage some pride. Well, that's exactly the point because I saw the match as a reversal of roles. For a change, we see the Azkals playing as the more dominant team against Indonesia who, strangely enough, were playing the way the Azkals do when faced with superior opponents. Indonesia were playing in a way you would expect an away team to play, cautious, defensive and waiting for an opportunity to take their chances on a counter-attack especially if the home team is effectively controlling the match. Sounds and looks familiar? Well yes, because the Azkals minus 3 key players were playing the same way away to a full strength Malaysia side in Kuala Lumpur just a few days before the match with Indonesia. I just love the irony in that, es futbol. The only difference in the 2-2 draw with Indonesia is that they made their few chances at goal count, 2 out of 4 to our 2 out of 10 shots at goal. In the Malaysia match, both sides failed to make any of their attempts to score count.

Some people will feel that it is the score line that matters. True to some extent, but this was a friendly. Heck, even in competitions, not even the better team wins. Ask Barcelona FC about their UEFA Champions League semifinal clash with eventual champions Chelsea and I'm sure they will agree with that point. I think the bigger picture we need to see from this match against Indonesia was that we were the better team in this match. Of course, there's still a lot of room for improvement and lots of work to do, but at the least this match also showed everyone what the Azkals are capable of on the pitch and how much they have progressed in just 2 years time. Need proof, just look at how the Indonesians played against our team. The Indonesians played like the underdog in this match, they did so because they knew coming into this match that the Azkals were the better team even if they wouldn't directly say so in public. Their actions on the pitch reveal more than their words and clearly manifest that point. Now tell me if that isn't a sign of respect from a country who over the decades has consistently beaten our football teams 18 times out of 20 occasions including this most recent match. The other 2 matches were draws.

Well, we came close this time around. We were literally inches away (e.g. Angel's header that hit the crossbar) from a victory over Indonesia. In my opinion, that ain't too bad at all. There will be other occasions in the future, both at home or even away, and you can be sure that Indonesia won't be taking our team lightly anymore. 

2012 Moira G Gallaga©


Honors Even Between the Azkals and Tigers

It was a well earned nil-nil draw that the Philippine Azkals got out of their friendly match against the Malaysian Tigers. It was a considerably commendable feat, especially when we take into account the fact that in four previous matches the Philippines played on Malaysian turf it all ended in defeat for our side. The Philippines is definitely no longer the whipping boys of Southeast Asia and the Azkals continue to show marked progress and promise.

The obligation to win this match loomed larger for the hosts. In the last friendly held here in Manila, they brought in a squad that left out some of their top players and they were lucky to equalize and draw the match in the dying minutes after trailing the Philippines Azkals 1-nil for some time. They also complained about the condition of the pitch. Well then, the stage was set for this return edition for the Malaysians to set the record straight.

They were playing on home ground where they hold a formidable record, and had their full complement of starters from their AFF championship squad available. Might I also add that the match officials were also Malaysian. That wouldn’t have been a problem if there weren’t some calls that were…I’d rather not say, though I credit Neil Etheridge and Darren Hartmann for their attempt to be as diplomatic as possible during their TV commentary when they made comment on some of the calls of the referee. The subtlety of the sarcasm was typically English. It might be worthwhile to note too that Dan Palami had a very subtle tweet about the match officials and Coach Weiss was quoted in an article making a comment on the use of officials from the hosting nation for international friendlies.

Photo via interaksyon.com

Anyway, problems with referees and officiating are always part and parcel of football, what matters in the end is sticking that ball into the goal more times than your opponent does. Last night you would think that players from both sides were doing their darned best to miss the goal, the Malaysians especially who had several pretty good chances. But as Chelsea has shown to everyone in the footballing world in their semifinals against Barcelona in the recently concluded UEFA Champions League, you don’t need that many chances at goal if you put away the few chances that you get and your opponent fails to do so.

So while the Malaysian coach and many others may feel that they deserved to win that match given the chances they created, I still say the honors were even that evening because they failed to convert those opportunities. We may have had much fewer chances at goal but if only one of those went in, the resulting victory would have been well deserved. Go ask Chelsea FC, the current UEFA Champions League champions, I’m sure they’ll agree with my point. But as it turns out, no goals were made that evening and as I said, the honors were even.

We had a pretty good squad for that match but were missing several key players – the Younghusbands, Neil Etheridge, Ray Jonsson, Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara. One could go on with the “what ifs” had these other players been available, but there is no point to keep dwelling on that matter. This is a challenge our national team faces every time they are going to play, and it is something we just have to learn how to deal with and overcome. Based on last night’s result, it appears that the Azkals coped with that challenge fairly well.

The Malaysians had a nervous start but settled down as the match progressed. Cohesion and teamwork issues continue to hound the Azkals and it manifested itself in this match. No question about individual skill and talent, we got loads of it on the pitch. It’s the matter of putting it together into a system that needs further work. As long as the PFF keeps maximizing the opportunities to arrange matches for the Azkals this objective will eventually be achieved.

Our goalkeeper Roland Muller was definitely man of the match for the Philippines. Stephan Schroeck is on another level entirely, an exciting player to watch. Though still needs to gel and get in sync some more with the rest (or the others need to start getting in sync with him) of the team. One other Azkal that impressed me a lot in this match was Marwin (or was it Marvin) Angeles. His entry into the match brought a positive impact into the game of the Azkals. He even had a crack at goal, narrowly missing it. This is one for the future given his age, shows lots of promise.

Well, that’s one down and there will be plenty of lessons to be learned from this draw against Malaysia and some adjustments to be made for the upcoming matches. There are two more matches up ahead, against Indonesia at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila on 05 June and against Guam at Panaad stadium in Bacolod City on 12 June. There’s also news of a training camp in August in Chicago, U.S.A.

These are all good developments. The Philippine national football team needs to play as much as it can. I am glad that the PFF and the management of the national team are taking advantage of every opportunity to play as frequently as possible, whether it be friendly matches, training matches or competitions. This draw against Malaysia on their home ground is a validation of that effort. So keep it up Azkals, keep making us proud. We Believe!

2012 June, Moira G Gallaga©



A Bright Spark for the UFL

It’s been billed as historical and there’s no mistake about that. A Philippine football club is competing in an international club tournament, a development that would be a great boost, or should we say, a bright spark for the United Football League (UFL).

The occasion is the 2012 edition of the Singapore Cup football tournament. It is the 15th staging of this annual tournament and UFL 1st Division team Loyola Meralco Sparks was among the 7 foreign clubs invited to participate in this tournament. The Singapore Cup starts off with a round of 16 single knock-out match and the Meralco Sparks found themselves up against Singapore club Geyland United.

No matter where your allegiances lie with regard to UFL clubs, I’m sure every Filipino football fan was supporting the Meralco Sparks in their match against Geyland United. This wasn’t just about the Meralco Sparks; this was also about Philippine football.

We all know the great strides made by our national football team, the Azkals, and what their achievements and historical milestones have done for the rebirth and growing popularity of the sport of football in the Philippines. The local football scene and most especially, the UFL, has greatly benefited from the rise of the Azkals. In the same manner by which the Azkals have made very rapid gains, the UFL in a short period of time has been steadily transforming itself into a proper football league. The television coverage deal with AKTV that airs 2 live UFL matches on Saturdays is a major development for the league and is a vital component to its growth. Exposure and recognition is key to the UFL’s success, television coverage will help achieve that goal. In addition to that, we now have a football league from a neighboring country inviting one of our football clubs to join their tournament.

One cannot overstate the significance of the occasion. A major part of it is about that longed for local and international recognition for Philippine football, and in this particular case, for the UFL and our domestic game in general. That to me is another big step forward. That to me is also validation that our domestic football, just like our national team, has finally landed on the football map of Southeast Asia.

Photo via quotednews.com
The other significance of this is the opportunity to see how the quality of our domestic league matches up with the other leagues in the region. Judging from the performance of the Meralco Sparks against Geyland United, they did fairly well. Not content with just simply getting invited to the tournament, Meralco Sparks knocked out Geyland United by winning 1-2 at extra time. It was a grueling match, fairly even in my opinion and the Meralco Sparks showed tremendous spirit to hang on to their lead and go through to the quarter-finals.

It will be argued that the Meralco Sparks faced a team that was languishing in the bottom rung of the S-League and weren’t really considered the underdogs in this match-up. However, the Meralco Sparks had a lot of improvising to do with their line-up as well. The match could have gone either way, but in the end the Meralco Sparks found a way through the next round. It is going to get much tougher for the Sparks. They will face a club from Myanmar, Kanbawza, who dispatched Wellington Woodlands of Singapore 1-2 to get to the next round. The quarter-finals will be a 2-legged match in July. That should provide the Sparks with enough time to have their full roster of players fit and ready for the upcoming challenge.  

I may not root for the Sparks in the UFL, but I am surely wishing them all the best in the Singapore Cup. A glorious opportunity awaits them and I am hopeful they will take this as far as they can, if not all the way.

2012 Moira G Gallaga©