Tuesday, March 20, 2012

From Underdogs to Dark Horses: The Azkals in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup

It all started February of 2011 here in Bacolod City. I was able to witness with my own eyes how our Philippine National Football team, popularly known as the Azkals, won against the Mongolian Blue Wolves in a 2-nil game in Pana-ad Park and Stadium (just a 10-minute walk from home) in the Qualifying Playoffs for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup. The Philippine team pave its way to the qualifying stage beating Mongolia by an aggregate score of 3-2, in favor of the Azkals.

The fairy tale run continued as the team made it to the qualifying group stage held in Myanmar. The match against Myanmar and Palestine all ended in a draw. However, it was the game between the team and Bangladesh which ended in 3-0 that qualified them for the Final tournament. They were the runners up for Group A, where Palestine lead the pack.

The Final Tournament for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup is composed of 8 teams, all winners and runners up for the qualifying group stage. The tournament was held in Kathmandu, Nepal last March 8-19 2012. It was a great challenge for the Philippine team since the group where they belong for the initial tournament was a pool of former winners for the said cup: North Korea (2010), Tajikistan (2006) and India (2008). The first game was against North Korea where the Azkals loss into a 2-nil score in favor of the North Koreans. But this did not stop the team and they fought back on their way to the final 4, beating former champions India and Tajikistan.

The greatest upset most probably for all Pinoy football fans was when the Azkals battled for the spot for the Knockout stage or the Final round. The first 80th minute of the game against Turkmenistan had them on the lead by 1 point but backfires on the last 10 minutes when the opponent was able to surpass them with a score of 2-1 in favor of Turks. So it was then a battle for the third place where they have to face again a former opponent, Palestine.

Philippines beats Palestine for 3rd place in 2012 AFC Challenge Cup
(photo courtesy of AFC official website)

The battle for the Third place was a very thrilling game I may say. The game ended 4-3 in favor of the Philippine team. This is the first time that the Azkals made it this far in the said competition and also the only Southeast Asian country for this year's Challenge Cup. The Golden Boot Award (highest scorer of the competition) also was given to Phil Younghusband, having 6 goals throughout the competition. The 2012 AFC challenge Cup champions was North Korea, followed by Turkmenistan, then the Philippines and in fourth place, Palestine.

Phil Younghusband bagged the Golden Boot Award after garnering 6 points in the whole competition
(photo courtesy of Neil Etheridge via Twitter)

This is definitely gonna be written in Philippine football history. It has been years since the Philippine team made it in the international scene and this year was a new beginning for the sport to be recognized in our country. Despite the issues about Moy and Guirado's sexual harassment (verbal) incident with former President Fidel Ramos's daughter Christy, and the racist remarks (in my own opinion) of GMA 7's Arnold Clavio on the ethnicity of half Pinoys (he said they are "mapagpanggap na kayumanggi" at "hindi tunay na Pinoy" against half-Filipino athletes of the team), the Azkals proved to themselves and the country that they are but one great team that cannot pulled down by such issues. I believe it was also a fuel for them to work harder on the said competition, a drive that helped the team prove they're worth to be called as a national team. I feel saddened however that despite their achievements, many are still putting them down, worst is they are fellow Filipinos. But still this is one of the greatest achievements that we had for Philippine football.

No comments:

Post a Comment