Painful that was a painful loss. It's probably why I couldn't get myself to write my thoughts on the match after it ended. :) We were 10 minutes away from reaching the final and the subsequent result was quite agonizing. It takes a while to process one's emotions after a match like that.
Then again, when was the last time the Philippine Men's National Football Team was on the verge of making it to the finals of a regional competition? I guess this roller coaster ride of emotions we've been subjected to during the AFC Challenge Cup tournament is a clear sign of the remarkable progress the Philippines has made in the realm of football. We've been subjected to the thrill of the victories that has marked the long road to qualifying for this tournament and the distinction of making it through to the semis while grouped with the 3 previous champions of this tournament. So, when the Azkals were minutes away from reaching the finals only to see that opportunity slip away in the last 10 minutes, I am sure the agony of the defeat was also clearly felt by all Filipino football supporters and fans.
The loss may have been agonizing, but as some people say, a little suffering is good for the soul. Missing out on the final? We weren't even expected to be there in the first place, much less reach the semis. I'll take this kind of suffering and close calls anytime over those dark old days where Philippine football was just there to make up the numbers. Besides, when the moment the Azkals finally go all the way and win one for the country, it makes the achievement all the more sweeter and ecstatic. At the rate they are progressing, we might not have that long to wait.
In the meantime, the Challenge Cup isn't over yet. There is still 3rd place to fight for against Palestine. So we've got one more chance of experiencing either the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat this Monday. I'd prefer the former of course, but either way, this has been a most productive undertaking for the Azkals.
There are many positives to take from this outing. We can dwell on those later, after the tournament. Right now, there's a match to win against Palestine. We'll have Angel Guirado and James Younghusband back for this match, who knows how the Turkmenistan match would have turned out if they were able to play. Hopefully, Jason Sabio is fit to start or will be able to put in some minutes at least. He's been quite a revelation; he has improved so much, has stepped up big time in Aly Borromeo's absence and rightfully claimed a starting spot in the team. With Neil Etheridge suspended, we need a solid defensive line against the Palestinians and the presence of Jason in the defense is badly needed for that purpose. In addition, having Jason playing beside Rob Gier in the center of the Azkals' defense allows Coach Weiss to play Juani Guirado as a defensive midfielder, a role he played quite effectively for the team's benefit.
As for Neil, kudos to him for taking responsibility for his actions. Given the way, Neil provides stability at the back and the way he commands the penalty, one tends to forget he is still only 22 years old. It was a boneheaded act on his part but to his credit, he acknowledged his mistake and made no excuses. His stabilizing presence at goal will be sorely missed.
The next match is just around the corner, a shot at another victory and the consolation of taking third place. Let's go Azkals! Go for that win! We're all behind you guys, all the way no matter what. WE BELIEVE!