ADD the South Korea game in the Asian Cup to the library of memorable Azkals games. Ever since I started writing about the national team in early 2000, there have been a lot of memorable games.
Among the first, of course, was during the tournament that started this resurgence--the 2004 Tiger Cup. There was that game against Malaysia where Michael Casas saved a penalty, and another against tournament favorite Thailand when we took the lead. Mind you, this happened one edition after the Philippines got routed by Indonesia, 13-1, in the same tournament. I saw that one and it was quite difficult to stay positive after that.
But we did.
Then of course, there was the 2005 SEA Games in Bacolod, and of all the games, one that stood out for me was the one against Malaysia, when for 15 minutes, it seemed we were headed to the semifinals for the first time, but Hollywood-ending, we did not get.
Two years later--and a year after topping the qualifiers in Bacolod--the team showed their grit when no one else cared. After back-to-back 4-0 losses, the already eliminated Azkals was to take on Myanmar, which was favored to advance to the semifinals of the re-branded Suzuki Cup after an easy win. They didn’t get it as the Azkals held on to a scoreless draw.
In those days, there were no livestreaming nor social media. You get “live score” for matches not aired live. Watching the time tick and the score remain 0-0 was something.
Last night, I had my live score on (which was 10 minutes late), social media and of course, television. And what an experience it would be. Pre-match, the commentators were talking about a 5-1 rout but 23 minutes in, I was still grinning as it was still 0-0.
In fact, I think Javier Patino had the best chance in the first half for both teams as he floored a volley into the near corner. Boy, I think all the Pinoys watching in the sports bars in the country would have silenced the noisy Koreans had that gone in.
One thing that keeps popping out of my head during that match was this--I hope the coaches and players learn from this. I’ve seen tournaments where local coaches don’t bother to show up against the favorites, fearing a massacre. I’ve seen some where a heavily favored team win by double digits.
Learn from the Azkals. Learn how to defend.
This is how you do it.
You respect the favorite team but don’t play scared. Heck, you try to be cheeky even as what Patino did in the second half, as he tried to catch the Korean keeper off guard. Had that gone in, it would have been the goal of the tournament. In one sequence, Patino also dribbled past three defenders before finding a teammate. He got the ball back but his shot was just a bit weak.
That one made me wish we had him during the Suzuki Cup. I think we would have made the finals for the first time.
There’s still two games left, against China and Kyrgyzstan, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we can spring a surprise or two.