This is the first part of three in the story of Team Philippines in the 2014 team for the Street Child World Cup. The story of the first Philippine team to reach a World Cup final.
The first part of our trilogy (and the longest part) begins in the middle as all good stories do… because that makes total sense as a narrative. So anyway we arrived in Rio De Janeiro for the Street Child World Cup. The team made of 9 boys, 9 girls, Enzo (Assistant Coach) Erica and Roberto (2010 alumni & Assistant Coaches), Jocelyn (Houseparent) & Irene (Social Worker).
Day 1 : Arrive
After more than 40 hours travelling, we made it. It was loud in the airport, teams singing and chanting the entire time. A real party atmosphere.
After about an hour on the bus (not sure how long it really was as I kept drifting off to sleep) we arrived at the Lonier Hotel, a beautiful place with six football fields (7 a side), a swimming pool, a giant kitchen, and more. Arriving at night, we basically packed up and went to sleep.
Day 2: Orientation
The next day we took an orientation of the place, some of the teams trained, our girls played England in a friendly, and everyone went swimming. After the England friendly we did a bit of training with the girls who would play the next day and ended with penalties, each player having to score a certain number before they could go swimming. Angelica, the youngest at 13, was particularly excited by the swimming so once all the players had met their targets they went to the swimming pool all excited only to find it closed for the evening. Angelica turns round with a big tantrum, shouts “Coach, wala nang swimming!” and storms off to her dorm sulking… leaving the rest of us in hysterics (if only there was a picture of her face).
Day 3: 1st Girls’ Group Games
The next day the opening ceremony took place and the games kicked off with our girls facing South Africa. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as excited for a game before in my life, the nerves and the energy were there – first time managing a national team in an international competition and all. In the first five minutes we hit the post twice, missed a couple of decent chances, but when the first went in the nerves were settled and we ended up winning 9-0. Needless to say it was an encouraging start and you can check out some of the highlights of that game here from 2:15 seconds.
The boys, meanwhile, itching to play, had a friendly with Liberia and won 4-1 so it was a promising start all round.
Day 4: Field Trip
The next day we all headed out early to the Cristo statue and then the Maracana Stadium. The organisation by the SCWC for the whole thing was difficult, the less said about that the better. But in the end the kids have some great pictures and hopefully some good memories to take away.
Day 5: Boys’ Group Games
The boys then played their first two group games. The first was against Nicaragua and a 1-0 win set us on our way. It was a decent start as there were things to improve on but some things gelled instantly. Check out the highlights of that game from 2:08 here. Originally our next game against Burundi was scheduled for 10:30am if I remember right. Thirty minutes before we’re supposed to be at the field one of the SCWC volunteers (of which there were hundreds designated each for different areas) told me as I was sitting writing about the first match and preparing for the 2nd, that all the players and coaches were supposed to be at one of the fields for 10am. Bebeto (former Brazilian football star) was making an appearance so everything had changed for him. Naturally no-one was happy with the short notice…. again… and it all came after a bit of a mess the day before (English understatement). What made it worse was that after arranging the boys for this (the girls were at the favelas for the day) Bebeto was more than an hour late with the kids being told they weren’t allowed to leave the football field, despite it being under a very hot sun with little water provided. And so all the games were postponed until 4pm, right after the conference. When the game finally kicked off, Burundi were very strong, tall, and passed the ball around very well. We didn’t deserve to lose as heavily as 4-0 but Burundi certainly deserved the win, check out the highlights from 2:48 of the video here. Our goalkeeper, Benjamin of FC Leveriza, was man of the match in both games.
Day 6: Girls’ Group Games
Back to the girls’ games and we were up against El Salvador next, who eventually finished 3rd. We scored the first with a long range free-kick from Agot which just went over the line. Our second was a thing of beauty so be sure to check out the highlights of that game here, also featuring Ronalyn (who scored the third) talking in this girls only episode. The girls therefore topped the group with 2 wins out of 2 and would meet England in the Quarter Finals.
The boys, meanwhile, played a friendly with Kenya. It was a fun and close match *coaches joined in for the third part of the game), and it helped somewhat with getting used to taller, more physical players.
Day 7: Boys’ Group Games
So the next day we faced Tanzania in the morning, an 8:30am kick off. Tanzania had drawn 2-2 with Burundi earlier in the group. But we learned from the Burundi game, the boys pressed well and put in a superb defensive performance. Stephen was man of the match, a kid whose anger management issues (from the emotional stress of having worked and slept on the streets as a child) almost vanished overnight after starting to play football only three years ago (naturally the source of the problem will still be there and needs continued long-term therapy, but football cured the symptoms). He made tackle after tackle in that game, winning every single challenge, in the best performance of his life. But it was absolutely a team effort, and pressing high up the pitch we gave them no time to play and they had to resort to playing long ball football. Then on the attack, we forced an own goal with a dangerous throw-in before Tyrone, the smallest player on the pitch, popped up at the back post to head in the 2nd as we beat a team who went on to win the competition. Check out the highlights of that here from 2:21. It was a tactical win.
Next up was Argentina. If we beat them, as all the other teams had, we would be sure to qualify for the knockout round. Anything else and it was uncertain. Burundi beat Argentina 9-1 also so if statistics were anything to go by we would win the game comfortably. Unfortunately with kids, and football, statistics rarely predict anything. In their last game Argentina gave their best performance and after going ahead in slightly fortunate style (no bias at all :p), they defended for the rest of the game. We equalised as Avin (of Gawad Kalinga) scored late and it ended 1-1. Now I wouldn’t be English if I didn’t complain about Argentinians wasting time, faking injuries, and generally playing a bit dirty. At the same time we created chances but didn’t put them away and that’s our responsibility. So, we ended the group stage with W2, D1, L1, unsure if 7 points put us through to the Quarter Finals. Check out the highlights of that game here from 2:54.
Day 8: Quarter Finals
Confirming in the morning that the boys made it through to the Quarter Finals was a nice way to start the day, meaning both our boys and girls were through to the knockout stages (only Brazil matched that). The girls were first up against England and fortunately little was made about me being English and coaching a team to face England. In many ways it kind of sums up the last few years, where I’d watched and reported on the Philippine National team not even realising England had an international friendly or World Cup Qualifier on at the same time. Now, an English coach making sure that the Philippines beat England in an international tournament.
England had improved since the friendly but we took a quick 4-0 lead and then held back; it was about fair play, sportsmanship, and although a couple of the girls were a little unhappy at not being given free reign to rack up the scoreline they did as we asked and we eventually finished it off late in the second half at 6-0. They strung together combinations of 20 passes together and made some excellent play there.
In a different way to the Tanznia and Argentina matches for the boys, this was another game which showed how much attitude mattered. Because attitude is everything. Attitude is the difference between our boys beating the eventual champions and drawing with a team who lost all their other games. In football, as in most things, those who put in most effort and work, generally become the best at that thing. Messi, Ronaldo, Beckham, Ronaldinho, and every other player who was the best at what they did became the best because they were typically the first at the training ground, the last to leave, and the hardest worker in between. Attitude is everything.
And that includes sportsmanship, understanding that development is more than the result of the game you’re playing right now. We’ve seen teams lead 10-0 back in Manila and the players rush to get the ball out of the net and restart the play to rack up even more goals. Winning in double digits and running to get the ball to restart play as quickly as possible to rack up the score teaches kids nothing, except that the coach thinks it’s OK to embarrass other teams, to ridicule them, and teach the kids that winning is what matters most. That develops nothing but bad characters in players… and in the long run it kills their development.
So with that lesson the girls made it to the Semi Finals to face Mozambique, check out the highlights of the win over England here, from 0:57.
The boys, meanwhile, faced Pakistan. Pakistan were a good side who topped their group unbeaten (W3, D1), and started off with a 13-0 win over India (2010 champions). It looked like it was going to be difficult. We set them up to play as we always did, high pressing, organised and tactical shape when we don’t have the ball, good passing and movement when we do. Throughout the training camp that was the focus and it paid off as we took the lead early in the game, Avin again forcing the goal. Both teams were clearly feeling the pressure, though, and the smart passing that at times characterised both the Philippines and Pakistan’s play quickly dissipated into one goalkeeper hoofing the ball upfield to the other, and back, and back, and back.
In the end both teams made chances before Pakistan finally equalized, right when the end of the game was in sight. After a nervy extra-time neither team made much and it went to penalties. Few things can prepare kids for that kind of pressure, they just have to go through it to do it better next time. And so it proved for us as we lost on penalties 3-2 (3 penalties per team), the only miss coming from a player who is normally very good at penalties, but this time rushed himself and tried to catch the keeper out. Check out the highlights from 7:00. And so it had to be that an English coach would take his boys to the Quarter Finals of a World Cup and lose on penalties.
Day 9: Semi Finals
So all the support now went to the girls, up against by far their toughest opposition so far in Mozambique. Mozambique topped their group beating England and Nicaragua and were a much stronger team with a couple of very skilful players. A nice shimmy from Agot and she passed up field to Ronalyn (who missed most of the game against England due to injury). With just her defender in front of her, Ronalyn beat her man and smashed the ball into the bottom corner, which settled the nerves. This game was a lot feistier. The Mozambicans were much more physical and the girls weren’t used to that. They were used to passing and moving round everyone, not used to the physical play or getting hit late if they took too long on the ball. Our best defender, Maylene, got injured early in the game and was a doubt for the final. April also picked up a knock but was fine after the game. But the girls still more then held their own technically, creating the better chances, and whenever Mozambique got an effort on target Joy in goal was more than up to the task. It’s just always a danger when you don’t kill off the game, though we deserved the win and we were going to the final… to play in a full stadium.
Day 10: The Final
The final was in Fluminense FC’s Stadium. It has an immaculate grass pitch which, if it was in the Philippines, would by far be the best field in the country. Likewise the stadium was relatively developed, inside it was impressive, and the atmosphere was louder then probably any UFL game. So the stage was set for a great final.
The girls’ final was the last game scheduled. Pakistan boys beat the USA and El Salvador girls sneaked a win on penalties against Mozambique for 3rd place each. We were warming up as Tanzania beat Burundi 3-1 in the boys final.
And so after the national anthems, the excitement building up for 10 days, of months preparing for the competition beforehand, and of so much energy and effort being put into the team, this was it.
For the first ten minutes the girls were incredibly nervy. Getting used to playing in a stadium, on the best pitch they’d ever set foot on, and representing their country in an international final was a lot to take.
So there was a lot of pressure. We had a couple of half chances early but soon afterwards one of our girls took too long on the ball in the middle and Brazil nicked it. They powered through one of our defenders, and then smashed the ball in like no shot the girls have ever faced before. It was an unstoppable strike from Brazil and they were 1-0 up. The pressure on the girls doubled and some of them came into half-time already crying.
We spoke to them about how the result still isn’t important, a common theme throughout training, as we ask that they give 100%. There’s no point asking for 110%, it’s impossible. A coach who asks the impossible of their players soon loses them because the players don’t know what to do. They literally can’t do what’s being asked of them so they either start cheating to get better results or they give up.
The most a coach can ask is that on that given day a player and the team perform as best as they can. You can’t do any more than that. To improve your chances next time you have to keep giving 100% in training and improve there. Then no matter the result you can be proud because in that moment you gave everything you could.
So back to the game and the girls picked up in the 2nd half. We threatened once or twice in a very balanced half but neither team could create a real clear cut chance. The girls started playing long ball and time ran out, Brazil walked off the pitch as champions.
Looking back on the whole experience maybe it would have just taken a few small adjustments for both teams to get a bit further. The biggest issue was the pressure, they’d never been anywhere or played on pitches like that before. Throughout their time the players also had a camera (or four) on them every day. Half the time spent for many team leaders was with media, interviews, and dealing with cameras and it was a surprise how much media was there and how much free reign they had. The girls had even gone to their dormitory several times just to hide from the cameras and pushy media (not all were pushy, some were lovely but they weren’t briefed properly so didn’t know the rules).
Add to that they’re representing the country and it’s a lot to take in. So both our teams, at times, took on the pressure and stopped playing their game. Resorting to long ball football too often in the final, we didn’t play our game and Brazil played theirs.
But in that moment, given all the girls had learned and everything new they were facing, they did their best and we are proud of them. And more than that the girls had become close friends off the field with Brazil. Brazil were a class act in that respect, their girls celebrated the victory, then quickly came over to comfort their friends from the Philippines. They deserved the win and their attitude in winning was fantastic.
And that may have been the best part of the Street Child World Cup. Teams, players, kids who grew up on the streets, scavengers, drug dealers, former child soldiers, all came together on the pitch and at that moment all that happened in the past was forgotten.
Our boys reached the Quarter Final, and our girls reached the Final, of an international tournament. Agot won the Golden Boot for the Girls Division. But hopefully they took much more back than the trophies and the accolades (all of which they received were very deserved). Trophies stand on a shelf and don’t do much after that. Accolades quickly become the past and meaning on the pitch in the next game. Instead hopefully they took back the experience, the lessons, the knowledge to be better and to do better. Because that’s the message in the end. For all of the trophies, all of the idols, the statues, and the things we create to impress others, none of it can actually do anything. No trophy or statue can actually be anything. It’s in people that all true value is found.
The 2014 Street Child World Cup is over. But in many ways the real work begins now. The SCWC was an event, a nice event, and the kids did well. But no event can fundamentally change a situation in the long run – by it’s very nature once an event is finished everything sooner or later goes back to normal. The real change comes from working every day back in the communities each country came from. And hopefully the SCWC gave a lift to those platforms so the kids who went can help those who didn’t.
These kids can do and achieve anything. The kids who are still living on the streets tonight, the families eating the food we throw away in the garbage (known as pag-pag), the 8 year old children who dropped out of school so they could work to earn money to feed their younger brothers after becoming the man of the house when their parents died… there are too many stories to tell.
So I’ll end this story with a glimpse into the next chapter and the Fairplay Academy: a football field, a quality school, and an urban farm to supply carenderias (small cafes for healthy, affordable food) – all in Payatas. A self-sustainable model supporting the basic needs of the community, we will replicate it in other areas once successful. And all of this can happen with the Fairplay Academy.
*A huge thank you to so many people who helped to make this happen.
AgriNurture, INC (Main girls sponsor), Witsenburg Natural Products (Scouting Tournament and Training Sponsor), Cordaid (Minor Boys Sponsor), Muslim Hands (who helped pay for some of the costs for our team with SCWC in Rio), Globe (Kit Sponsor) Bootcamp (Who provided quality football boots for the players), The Camp (Training venue in Manila), Ingrid Plowman, Rod Whitehead, Randy Roxas, Sarah McLeod, and many others.
In training: Noriel, Roberto, Erica, and Enzo were the regular coaches with myself and helped level the team up massively. Thanks also Alasdair Thomson and Klaus Larsen for giving their time and expertise. Thanks to UP Diliman, FEU women’s team, Western Bicutan, and Kaya FC for the friendly games in preparation.
In admin and paperwork, the staff of Mango Tree House and Fairplay for All were invaluable. We wouldn’t have reached Brazil if not for your work.
A huge thanks also to everyone and anyone who helped us in Rio and in preparing to go to Brazil.
Part 2: The Story Behind Team Philippines in the Street Child World Cup: The Prequel