This appears in Football Philippines magazine (the January-February 2012 edition)
Kings for a day
by rick olivares
It’s a moment frozen in time. If you look at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium today, many of the structures built that day remain in place even if unused. There’s the clock that has stopped as if to mark a time and place. An event.
It wasn’t just an event. In fact, it sent ripples down and helped father today’s football generation.
On Thursday, November 28, 1991, the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, the old sports complex along Adriatico was packed and rocking following an improbable win by the Philippine Men’s Football National Team as they defeated regional power Malaysia, 1-nil.
In their first game of the group stage, the Philippines led Vietnam 2-1 but a late goal in the 84th minute saw the Vietnamese draw level. Despite the disappointment of not coming away with the three full points, the Filipinos were confident that they could beat Malaysia. It wouldn’t be easy but it was very much doable.
Against the Tigers, the Philippine team, as coached by Eckhard Krautzun and Rolando Plagata, played with an ultra-defensive 5-3-1-1 formation. “Ang game plan namin ay maglaro ng depensa tapos tirahin sila sa mga counter,” explained defender Marlon Maro. “We were almost successful because we had very good opportunities to score.”
The Malaysians however, found cracks in the defense to pepper the Philippine goal with a variety of shots. But keeper Melo Sabacan was magnificent at goal. With 15 minutes left in a tightly contested match, Philippine midfielder Alfredo Dioso Jr. found Elmer Bedia, who was just sent in the match to provide fresh legs, racing up the right flank. Drawing the defense, Bedia sent a perfect cross to striker Norman Fegidero Jr. who controlled the ball with his chest. Fegidero, faked the goalkeeper one way then sent the ball with his strong left foot to the back of the net.
The Malaysians were in shock. They hosted the Philippine team for a month in Kuala Lumpur. Their coach, Bakhri Ibni, helped train the Filipinos and the Football Association of Malaysia paid for their expenses. Three months later, the pupil bested the teacher.
As the referee blew the final whistle that marked full time, the venerable stadium that bore the name of the nation’s national hero erupted in pandemonium as they celebrated their new heroes. The technicians working the stadium’s sound system played Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the throbbing pulsating music whipped the fans all the more into a frenzy. There was dancing and singing in the stands. Grown Malaysian men, veterans of many a football war, openly wept. The crowd surged forward to the pitch to embrace and celebrate with the players.
Bob Guerrero, the voice of the Azkals, was in college back then and he was one of those who ran down to the pitch to celebrate. “I remember going down and hugging whoever player I saw,” reminisced Guerrero.
“All of a sudden, you had all the media – foreign and local – trying to get interviews with us,” Fegidero described of that moment. “It was crazy. It was like when the Azkals beat Vietnam in the 2010 Suzuki Cup. The difference is that was the pre-internet age.”
Added Rudy del Rosario who also played striker for the team, “The headline in Malaysia the following day read: ‘national disaster.’ That was how big it was. They were the defending SEA Games champions and the whipping boys of Southeast Asia just beat them. We were giant killers. We were kings if only for just one day.”
The coaching staff preached caution as dangerous Indonesia lurked around the corner, their last assignment of the group stage. They had four points in two matches and they had an opportunity to advance farther than they’ve ever done before.
And it looked like they would fell another giant as the Philippines led Indonesia 1-0. But defender Judy Saluria fouled an Indonesian inside the box and that led to a penalty. The Filipinos never recovered from that as not only did the Merah Putih equalize but they also scored a second goal to win 2-1.
In the next stage of the competition, Singapore, all too aware of the capabilities of the Filipinos, did not allow the home team to get in the game as they blanked the Filipinos for the first time in the competition to beat them 2-0 for the bronze medal. The Philippines finished fourth in the seven-nation football tournament.
Following the 1991 Southeast Asian Games where the Philippines placed second in the medal tally, the Men’s Football Team, after eight months of playing together, was disbanded while their German advisers went back to their home country.
For one brief and shining moment, the draw against Vietnam and the win against Malaysia (followed by the thrilling match against Indonesia that ended in a loss), gave the country something to cheer for. And it inspired many of the current generation playing football today.
The starting XI during the Philippines vs. Malaysia game:
Melo Sabacan – goalkeeper
Adolfo Alicante – sweeper
Judy Saluria – stopper
Marlon Maro – stopper
Rolando Piñero – left fullback
Edgar Berja – right fullback
Hersey Salmon – left wing
Eduardo Duran – right wing
Alfredo Dioso Jr. – midfield
Filamer Rosell – striker
Norman Fegidero Jr. – striker
The 1991 Philippine Men’s Football National Team:
Adolfo Alicante, Iloilo, DF
Jess Baron, Iloilo, DF
Elmer Bedia, Iloilo, FW
Edgar Berja, Iloilo, DF
Nonoy Carpio, Manila, GK
Rudy del Rosario, Manila, FW
Jun dela Cruz, Iligan, DF/MF
Alfredo Dioso Jr., Bacolod, MF
Eduardo Duran, Dumaguete, MF
Eduardo Duran, Dumaguete, MF
Norman Fegidero Jr., Bacolod, FW
Herbert Ignacio, Dumaguete, DF/MF
Eduardo Marasigan Jr., Batangas, MF
Marlon Maro, Dumaguete, DF
Rolando Piñero, Dumaguete, DF
Filamer Rosell, Manila MF/FW
Melo Sabacan, Bacolod, GK
Hersey Salmon, Davao, MF Acer
Judy Saluria, Iloilo, DF Manila Army
Consultant: Eckhard Krautzun, Germany
Goalkeeper coach, Riko Weigand, Germany
Rolando Plagata, Iloilo, head coach
Consurcio Manresa, Iligan, assistant coach
Where are they now?
Adolfo Alicante led FEU to several football titles and is now coach of Green Archers United.
Jess Baron is with the Philippine Army.
Elmer Bedia lives in Australia where he handles a variety of football clinics.
Edgar Berja recently retired from the Air Force and now resides in his native Iloilo.
Nonoy Carpio works with the Asian Football Confederation.
Rudy del Rosario is one of three people to form Kaya FC and is currently the head coach of the Homeless World Cup Team
Alfredo Dioso Jr. works with an electric company.
Norman Fegidero Jr. coached the Azkals for a spell and is the successful head coach of West Negros University. He also coaches Pachanga FC in the UFL.
Herbert Ignacio works with a bank.
Eduardo Marasigan Jr. now resides in the United States.
Marlon Maro is coach of the College of Saint Benilde, the Street Child World Cup Team, and Navy FC.
Rolando Piñero is an assistant coach with the Azkals and was there with the team in Vietnam in that momentous 2010 Suzuki Cup.
Filamer Rossel works for Mama Sita.
Melo Sabacan is a goalkeeper coach today with Navy.
Hersey Salmon works with Acer.
Judy Saluria is with the Army.
Eckhard Krautzun still does football work for FIFA.
Riko Weigand is still a goalkeeper coach.
Rolando Plagata passed away.