WATCHING the first half of the Cambodia vs. Philippines match in the SEA Games was one of the most difficult episodes for me as a football fan.

Not only were we so atrocious, there were times in the match that you’d question why the hell did these guys make the team? They can’t keep the ball, they don’t know how to work with their teammates, heck, they don’t even have that first touch.

Are we back in the dark ages of Philippine football of sending under-trained, underserving players to international football? It was so ugly I had to move away from the TV.

Then the second half happened and I had to pick my jaw up the floor. The team showed great passing, great movement--both with and away from the ball--and certainly great composure that it was really hard to believe that I was seeing this very same team play that atrocious first half.

A Philippine team making great adjustments in the second half is nothing new, especially for fans of the Azkals, a team of the best Pinoys worldwide. But this was the SEA Games team, a bunch of players seeing action in Manila schools and the UFL.

Why be impressed about a second-half adjustment that ultimately fell short? In boxing parlance, you’d be impressed with a fighter, who after getting beaten black and blue in the first six rounds, turns it around to last until 12 rounds.

That the team was able to adjust means not only do they have the skills, they have the confidence to do so and that certainly bodes well for the UAAP and the NCAA and the UFL, the leagues that helped mold these players.

Yes, we could have done better if we had the Azkals who were eligble for the SEA Games play, but I liked that the PFF went with this bunch, so we’d know how our youth fare against our neighbors.

So far, we are getting there. Down 2-0, we fought back in the second half. If not for some unlucky chances upfront, we could have equalized. Of course, the third goal was tough to swallow as OJ Clarinio could have done better in clearing that.

Wasn’t that the dream in January, 2011? To be able to have a team of locals, not for the sake of fielding local players, but because the homegrown guys would be as good as the Pinoys who learned their football abroad?

To be honest, I don’t expect much from this Seag team. After the disaster in Indonesia 2011, the PSC/POC fiasco in 2013, I was suspicious of why we have a football team in the SEA Games.

I suspected that if this team fails to make the semifinals, the POC and PSC will say, “I told you so!”

But so far, I liked what I saw. Yes, it’s time we stopped being contented with “at least they were able to compete,” but then again, we haven’t have a team like this since the late 90s. In 2005, our U23 team relied heavily on Fil-foreigners and this U23 side is showing our youth football, which for years bore the brunt of the country’s and the PFF’s neglect, is finally catching up.

That first half against Cambodia reminded us of that neglect, the second half showed glimpses of what we can do, if given the chance.

With two losses, the team is in a must-win situation against dangerous Myanmar and Indonesia if it wants to progress. And, from what I’ve seen so far, there’s reason to hope.

These schizophrenic guys don’t give up and will give their all.