IT took us 260 minutes before we finally got our first Asian Cup goal. At that time, we had conceded seven goals—three each in the last two matches—to bow out of Group C with 0 points and that solitary goal by Stephen Schrock.
Against Asia’s elite, that simply wouldn’t do. It’s hard to take anything positive after that loss to Krygyzstan Republic, considering it was only Michael Falksgarde who kept us for most of the match with some valiant saves. That second goal though, a sweet turn and shoot, killed our dreams of advancing.
Can we still do it? Qualify to the Asian Cup four years from now? I think so. The first time’s always the hardest. But winning a game is a different story.
Aside from the Asian Cup, I hope we finally get to fix the kinks in our domestic league and give our youth teams—especially the 16 to 21 age groups—better preparation. Our structure is still an anomaly. For the rest of our Southeast Asian neighbors, their senior team reflects the strength of their youth system. That’s not the case for us, though.
Our youth teams are nowhere near the elite level and are still routinely pummeled by five goals or more. Although we are competitive at the 14 Under level, that’s not that the case in the 16 to 21 age group. Heck, one time, we even sent the wrong team to the 16-Under competition as all the players were a year clear of the cut-off.
We can’t put everything on the Azkals and their coaching staff and I don’t think we can use their formula—getting Pinoys raised abroad—for our youth teams. That sort of betrays the whole idea of improving our grassroots.
How do we do that? I think the PFF has a lot of good people capable of running a youth program. What is needed, though, is sustainability because that has never been the PFF’s strong point. Heck, last year, just a few months after I learned about changes in the PFF youth setup under a Japanese guy, I learned it’s back to square one because the Japanese quit.
In the senior team level, our level and competitiveness will never dip to the pre-2004 set-up, but our youth system is a different story.
I hope, four years from now, while we cheer for yet another appearance by the Azkals in Asia’s elite competition, we will also have something to cheer for in our youth teams.
That is my dream. Plus of course, that Asian Cup maiden victory.