Hopes were high for the Philippine Men’s National Football Team ever since it was announced that the Philippines will be one of the hosts of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.
Unfortunately for the Azkals and Filipino football fans, the country failed to advance to the semi-finals for the first time since that magical run in 2010 at Hanoi, Vietnam.
Although the Philippines was grouped with the likes of Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia, reaching the semi-finals was the bare minimum and that objective wasn’t fulfilled.
In the final matchday at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan, the Philippines needed to upset the odds and win against Thailand to ensure smooth passage to the next round. Alas, that failed to materialize as the Azkals lost 0-1 after 90 minutes.
“It’s a really, really disappointing situation for us. We wanted so much to go to the semi-finals to show how great we are,” lamented Azkals goalie Roland Muller.
“The luck was generally a bit missing up front. We didn’t score so it’s really hard to go to the next stage.”
Stephan Schrock echoed, “Five minutes after we lost it’s hard to find some positive things. We had some chances. We weren’t cold enough in front of the goal. All in all, we showed a good effort in the tournament with all the circumstances we had before, but it was not enough.”
Goals chance games and sadly for the Azkals, they didn’t score enough in the tournament to stamp their authority. After three games, the squad just scored twice with both goals arriving in the Indonesia game and conceded three goals. That is a statistic worthy of elimination.
“We are really disappointed at the moment but there’s always a tomorrow.
“There’s always some positive things you can take away from those lessons. We will analyze that and come back stronger hopefully,” reflected Schrock.
There are many questions now for Philippine football. The upcoming Philippines Football League is being created, but uncertainty has gripped that league. For Schrock, the Philippines just needs to look at Thailand to know what a good domestic league does for its national team.
“You can see the league is doing very good there and the outcome is the national team also doing very good,” explained Schrock.
“If the league in the Philippines won’t take the next step, the national team won’t take the next step,”
Nevertheless, there was a bright spot for the Azkals in its tournament full of darkness. Against Thailand, Azkals mentor Thomas Dooley elected to play Marco Casambre at center-back. Casambre is a 17 year old native of Quezon City who is now on the books of the Anto Gonzales-coached University of the Philippines.
Apart from a nervy start, Casambre held himself well in his first cap for the Philippines.
“I’m really, really happy for him. He made a good job. He’s 17 years old. He’s already outstanding for me. He’s calm on the ball. He made his job. Yeah, I’m happy for him,” shared Muller.
To bow out of the tournament this early is a disaster. However, there are many games left for the Azkals to play. Sometime in the summer, qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup will resume.
This is a bitter pill to swallow, but even the world’s biggest sports teams had to trust the process as they say. For the Azkals, let’s just hope that the process will have a tangible prize this time.