The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) today proudly welcomed back the members of the National Men’s Team in a press conference held in Makati City. The Azkals arrived on Monday from Maldives where they finished runners-up to Palestine in the recently concluded Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup Maldives 2014.
“We’re proud of their achievement. Of course we’re sad that we didn’t win the gold medal but we’re proud of what they’ve done, so we should be proud of the players, they gave everything for the country. We have to thank them for the achievement. I am sure the footballing Filipino youth look up to them as inspirations” said PFF President Mariano Araneta.
The Azkals’ advanced to the finals, after a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Maldives to face Palestine, which they beat 4-3 for the 3rd place in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal. Palestine however redeemed itself and prevailed with a 1-0 win from a free-kick in the 2nd half. The Azkals failed to equalize despite dominating the remaining minutes of the match with numerous crosses from the left flank, and a powerful long shot from debutant Daisuke Sato which was saved by the Palestine keeper at the far post.
Despite the loss, Araneta highlighted the significance of reaching the finals. “This is historical since it’s the first time we’ve reached the finals of a regional tournament, so it’s very significant for Philippine football; this has not been achieved before” said Araneta. “I hope that Philippine football will continue to develop and all stakeholders will continue to strive and who knows, maybe next time we will win the Championship,” he added.
One key aspect seen in the Azkals’ progress in this year’s tournament is the balanced combination of local and foreign-based players. The current team showcased local and young talents who claimed their place in the team with their excellent performance. Players from the United Football League Daisuke Sato, Amani Aguinaldo, Simone Rota and OJ Porteria combined with the extensive experience of veteran players Phil and James Younghusband, Rob Gier, Jason de Jong and Anton del Rosario who was reselected for the team. Reserve goalkeeper Roland Muller also made his mark in the tournament with his superb saves that left the Philippines with no goals against during the group stage.
“We’re both happy and sad,” said PFF General Secretary Atty. Edwin Gastanes. “Happy because the team reached the finals, for the first time in decades, of a major international tournament. It is a milestone that we all should build on. Sad, because we did not win the finals; however, we saw how the team fought hard, how the veteran and young players all played with big a heart and gave their best. The next tasks are to defend the Peace Cup title this year, and be a finalist in the Suzuki Cup 2014 and hopefully win the championship.”
The Azkals are expected to play more friendly matches in the coming months in preparation for the Peace Cup in September and Suzuki Cup in November 2014.