As soon as we heard that the Azkals would play the UFL All Stars in what respected journalist Mike Limpag noted was the first time the National team would play a selected team from the league, colleague Craig Burrows and I went in search of tickets to take the kids.
As you may know from previous articles I coach kids from Payatas and Kasiglahan who live in poverty and have gone through a lot in their short lives. Many of the kids come from Mango Tree House, the children’s home run by Craig Burrows and sister-charity ASCF. To find out more about the kids who now play football for the community check out this documentary.
With some help from good friends and supporters Ebong Joson, Jaron Genota and Ryan Fenix, we were able to get the kids tickets and provide food for the day as they watched a really exciting game between the UFL All Stars and the Philippine National team. With each of the kids excited about seeing different Azkals they cheered throughout the game and went home with huge smiles on their faces, despite it being the second hottest day of the year.
The crowd was bustling as the game started, with over 5,000 fans cheering to beats from the Kaholeros. Sat in the control room for the game tweetcasting I could still hear the beats through the walls and windows. For a first effort the band provided a great atmosphere although for July 3 hopefully the band’s leaders can help provide the beats to specific football moments.
Either way the kids really enjoyed the cheering and kudos goes to all those who were part of organising that. The pre-match entertainment was a match between teams of the Azkals-Global Training School who showed why their teams were already winning tournaments. So to get your kids learning from the best coaches available join the Azkals-Global Training School at Corinthians Garden.
Honouring Yanti Barsales
Leading the Azkals’ attack was Yanti Barsales who received a huge cheer from the crowd as his name was announced. A tribute was read out before the game started which can be found here. Yanti was also wearing the captain’s armband but came off early to receive a standing ovation from the crowd. Holding back tears it was an emotional moment for the striker who has served his country not only as a footballer but as a staff sergeant. For more information on his retirement click here.
A New-look Azkals
The game itself started a little defensively with both teams sporting diamond 4-4-2 formations. After a cagey opening probing each others’ defences it was the Azkals who broke the deadlock, a long ball from James Younghusband was controlled by Chieffy who slotted past Edmundo Mercado in goal for the UFL. With UMAK almost full the noise from the crowd was fantastic as we got to see what Philippine football was about, enjoying what became a great back and forth game.
The assist by James Younghusband was one of many great passes he exhibited. Switching from his usual right midfield position to play as the holding midfielder, James displayed a great variety of passing that his idol David Beckham would have been proud of. This change was one of many as the Azkals switched to a 4-3-3 formation shortly after going ahead, J. Younghusband, Greatwich and Misagh Barahdoran making up the three midfielders as Chieffy, P. Younghusband and new Azkal Nathaniel Burkey, who replaced Barsales, switched positions continuously in the Azkals’ attack.
The new look side showed their prowess again as they began to dominate possession. James Younghusband floated in a free-kick that was flicked on by Borromeo to Greatwich who hit the bar with a left-footed volley. The Azkals then pressured with long throws, Del Rosario finding Bahadoran who shot over. The Azkals had a third chance to double their lead as a goalmouth scramble from a free-kick was eventually cleared.
Against the run of play the UFL then equalised through Kaya forward Eric Dagroh. His team-mate Aly Borromeo was at fault as he lost possession to Izzeldin El Habbib close to the Azkals area as the UFL worked the ball to. Dagroh then turned Sabio in defence and curled a shot into the bottom corner leaving Fulham keeper Neil Etheridge with no chance.
The score remained 1-1 until half-time when announcer and organiser Ebong Joson, who did a very professional job announcing throughout the game, honoured the 1991 Philippine team who beat Malaysia in one of the greatest upsets in Philippine sporting history. One of those players was Coach Rudy Del Rosario who now manages the Philippine Homeless World Cup team who will be flying to Paris later this year.
An Exciting Second Half
The second half was even more exciting than the first with five goals and a host of talking points. In their first game watching the Azkals I couldn’t have hoped for anything better for Payatas and Kasiglahan who have only been playing for four months but are already so passionate and enthusiastic about the beautiful game. Read about their first tournament here.
Mercado was replaced by Villaflor in the UFL goal and throughout the half he showed why he was chosen as one of the best keepers in the league. A Burkey through ball played in Phil Younghusband whose shot was turned round the post well by the Green Archers goalkeeper. Soon after though the UFL took a shock lead as Sabio gave a free-kick away on the edge of the area. Mark Hartmann stepped forward to curl perfectly over the wall to hit the top corner of the net with a beautiful shot, again leaving Etheridge with no chance in goal.
With the UFL ahead the Azkals threw more bodies forward to equalise from a long throw-in. Sabio launched another ball into the area, James Younghusband headed at goal. Villaflor saved but Greatwich pounced on the rebound to equalise. Greatwich then had the chance to put the Azkals in front as a James Younghusband free-kick was volleyed by Burkey who had lost his marker and found Greatwich but he clipped the ball wide.
Pressing high for a winner the Azkals were left a little open at the back as the UFL took the lead again through Dagroh who scored his second and the UFL’s third. Sabio and Borromeo failed to communicate effectively and Dagroh stole in to blast another shot Etheridge could do little about. With the UFL ahead once more Araneta came on and equalised from a Caligdong cross heading to level the scores. With less than ten minutes left in the game both teams had chances to win. First Chieffy passed to the unmarked Phil Younghusband in a well-worked corner but his cross-shot was slightly too high for Araneta. But with one minute left hesitancy in the Azkals defence allowed the UFL to snatch the win as Izzeldin El Habbib stole in to show why he was the top scorer in the league blasting past Etheridge in injury time.
Criticising the New Azkals
The whistle blew for full-time and the Azkals quickly disappeared to hear from their manager and coach. The fans enjoyed a thrilling game, though, and while many things have been said about the defensive mistakes leading to all four UFL goals fans must remember that this was a friendly match with the Azkals experimenting with new players and new positions in a new formation. The Azkals did seem to have the better of the game and were unlucky not to have come away with anything but this was a friendly game which displayed the best of Philippine football and will surely keep many fans coming to the UFL games at UMAK next season.
As the new Azkals grow together we can expect a similar leap in performance as happened in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers. Draws against hosts Burma and Palestine showed a lack of cohesion and understanding in the team, who fielded new players, but this was soon eclipsed by the way the team gelled in the final game and blew Bangladesh out of the water to qualify. In a week Manager Dan Palami and Coach Michael Weiss brought the new players in and got them to perform; now they have a month to achieve the same thing against Sri Lanka.
Payatas FC and Kasiglahan FC
As for my kids they loved the experience and will go back to their homes and families shouting the praises of Philippine football. The result doesn’t matter so much to them, what matters was seeing the best players in the Philippines and the experience of meeting their new idols. Now we’ll go back to training with the kids inspired for their next tournament.
Today the winner was Philippine football in an exhibition of the best talents of the country. The Azkals may have lost the match but they have gained more fans and certainly show enough potential to beat Sri Lanka. Indeed with the players switching positions so frequently it seems that Coach Michael Weiss may be looking to play a version of Total Football where positions become fluid. The strategy takes time to develop but is incredibly effective, as originally the Netherlands and now Barcelona powerfully demonstrate.
Fans can remain optimistic about the Azkals as we see what the beautiful game means off the pitch, inspiring the Philippine youth to play football and represent their areas. For the kids of Payatas and Kasiglahan to see their role-models play was an experience they will share with their barangays, inspiring each other to work for a better life off the pitch as well as on it.
To hear more about how the kids develop and how the charity Fairplay for All grows follow @roymondous on Twitter and subscribe to roymondous.wordpress.com to find out more.
Man of the Match
UFL All Stars: Eric Dagroh
Philippines: James Younghusband