This appears in the Wednesday, June 29, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.
Azkals take on Sri Lanka in World Cup qualifiers first leg
by rick olivares with pic by craig burrows (thanks!)
When the Sri Lankan and Philippine Men’s Football National Teams take to the pitch of the Sugathadasa Stadium late today for the first leg of a home-and-away series of the first round of the World Cup Qualifiers for Brazil 2014, both squads could very well say, “At last.”
In their entire footballing lives, neither team has participated in a World Cup Qualifiers. Either the teams did not enter, withdrew their participation of were denied a chance to qualify for the world’s biggest and most prestigious tournament.
The Brave Reds, as the Sri Lankan booters are nicknamed and ranked #169 in the world by FIFA, are coming off a dismal AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers where they draw one match and handily lost two others.
The Azkals, as the Filipinos who are ranked #155 by FIFA are called, qualified for the next stage of the AFC Challenge Cup as they finished runners-up in their Group with a 1-win (a 3-0 thrashing of Sri Lanka’s South Asian neighbor Bangladesh) and a pair of draws (1-1 against nemesis Myanmar and 0-0 against group winner Palestine).
But during the Azkals’ preparation for the World Cup Qualifiers in Duren, Germany, they had a topsy-turvy series of friendlies beginning with a 4-3 loss to the UFL All-Stars that was followed by a pair of 4-1 wins over Aachen-Düren Selection and SC Bonner before limping off with a 4-0 and 5-0 drubbing by FC Ingolstadt and SV Darmstadt. The loss to FC Ingoldstadt, a third Division team in the German Bundesliga included a howler by Azkals keeper Neil Etheridge whose mis-kick of a clearance led to a goal. “Losing is learning,” said the Fulham reserve keeper in his Facebook page. That same day on his Twitter account, Etheridge added, “Can’t be afraid to fail. I’m searching for perfection.”
“Our losses are all part of the learning experience,” said Philippine right back Anton del Rosario. “That is why we are here.”
The Sri Lankans haven’t been idle as they have trained in the Korea under former South Korean internationalist Jang Jung who aside from playing in his homeland for Lucky Goldstar Hwangso also played in the domestic leagues of Malaysia (Perak FA and Singapore M-League Team) and Singapore (Geylang United). Jung has been coaching in Sri Lanka since 2006, first with the U-23 national squad and in 2008, with the senior team.
Jung admitted to the Sri Lanka Daily Star that the team was only formed a few weeks ago due to delayed selection process. Three players were banned by FIFA for their role in a match-fixing incident.
In the Daily Mirror, article, Brave Reds captain Rohana Ruwanthilaka said, “Our main target is to perform well in the first leg which will be played on home soil. All of them (his teammates) have gained experience playing international matches and are determined to give a torrid time for the visiting Philippine side.”
However, this is a Philippine side that is unlike no other formed in its history. Bolstered by Filipinos of foreign heritage, the Azkals have turned not only the Philippines into a football-mad country but have put their regional rivals on notice.
The projected starting eleven by national head coach Michael Weiss will feature the back four of Anton del Rosario, Rob Gier, Aly Borromeo, and Ray Jonsson; a midfield featuring James Younghusband, Stephan Schrock, who drew raves for his sterling playing during training camp, the vastly improved Manuel Ott, and Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong; and at the forward position is the twin strike force of Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado who was a revelation during the AFC Challenge Cup in Myanmar.
Also included in the Azkals’ lineup are Eduard Sacapaño, Jason Sabio, Dennis Cagara, Roel Gener, Nestor Margarse Jr., Paul Mulders, Ricardo Becite, Jerry Lucena, James Rochlitz, Nate Burkey, Ian Araneta, and Misagh Bahadoran.
“We have a good team,” said Weiss. “We have to continuously work on our chemistry and our system of play. With every match we play we gain confidence. Hopefully, we can score a couple of goals in Sri Lanka that will help us a lot when we play in Manila.”
The Azkals’ home match against Sri Lanka will be on Sunday, July 3, at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium at 630pm (Manila time).
If Ray Jonsson doesn't arrive in time for the match, look for Paul Mulders to take his place as Roel Gener is injured.