GOING into the final game against East Timor, I thought a win by five goals would have been enough to see us through to the semifinals of the Southeast Asian Games for the first time.
I expected the Cambodia vs. Malaysia game to be a close one with it either ending in a draw--hurray for us--or Malaysia winning by one. Things were in our favor just as the second half started with us holding a 2-0 edge--thanks to goals by Stephen Schrock and Amani Aguinaldo--but two goals in two minutes by Cambodia doused our hopes.
By then we needed to win by seven goals to beat Cambodia on goal difference. We had two more but Cambodia scored another, leaving us with an almost impossible goal of a win by eight to ensure passage to the semifinals. Malaysia cut the lead to 3-1. We got to 6-0 and though we had caught up with Cambodia on the first tie break--goal difference--we would still lose on the next tiebreak, which was the number of goals scored.
There was no mad dash for a seventh goal though as gutsy Timor Leste showed there was no quit in them and scored when we least expected it, basically ending our finish.
Aguinaldo was so disappointed he couldn’t compose himself for a post-match interview. That pretty sums up what most of the fans feel. It was our most impressive win in any Seag campaign and it was just too bad that it was still short of a semifinal spot. Just like in 2005, we lost that semifinal shot in the last game but unlike 14 years ago, this team was still in the running, still chasing for a final four spot in the final minutes.
So for me, disappointing as it was, the team did quite well. Coach Ernie Nierras also has a positive perspective for the next Seag--nine players in the team will be eligible for 2021.
In 2005, most of the squad--the Younghusband brothers included--would have been eligible for the 2007 games, something then manager Vince Santos pointed out. But we skipped the next two Seag, only to return in Indonesia 2011. I’m positive that won’t be the fate of this squad.
I hope next year too, to help prepare for 2021, the Philippine Football Federation can have a national U19 tournament since this is basically for the U22 players in 2021. Thanks to Qatar sponsoring the pro league, the PFF will add the U17 national tournament to its calendar, while Ceres FC has promised to put up a national U13 event. That’s aside from the national U15 tournament the PFF is currently conducting.
A few weeks ago, thanks to the initiative of the Negros Occidental Football Association, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) will also organize a national U13 tournament. And this is where the PFF can step in. I hope it can convince the PSC to instead focus on the U13 since Ceres is already eyeing a U13 event. Or, it could be the other way around, if the PSC is bent on having a U13 national event, the PFF can convince Ceres to instead focus on the U19.
If that pushes through, I think this will be the first time in our history that there will be national tournaments for four age groups—U13, U15, U17 and U19.
Now that’s something I can look forward to.