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Copa Paulino Alcantara 2022 (1)

Originally published by Manila Standard Online

The Philippines’ bids in the football competitions of the 31st South East Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam didn’t go as expected as of now.

The Men’s Under-23 team gassed out in its last game in Group against Indonesia, 4-0 to end its campaign for a podium finish while the women’s side fell to Thailand, 3-0 in the semifinals to settle for the bronze medal match against Myanmar.

Despite the disappointing results, I’m still hoping that these reality checks, no matter how painful, will teach our teams valuable lessons for the future.

Like what U-23 catch Norman “Noy” Fegidero Jr. said earlier, “there is no shortcut in football.”

And the U-23 team can start doing the preparations as early as now. A three month preparation before a major tournament such as the SEA Games is no longer a viable option. Which is easier said and done, right? But then again must we continue to expect so much from a team that is not really equipped to meet the powerhouse squads in the region and gnash our teeth when they fail?

On the good side, team manager Josef Malinay said the team will form the core of the Philippine Azkals that will compete in the AFF Suzuki Cup. With the tournament not under FIFA days, assembling the Azkals based abroad will be a challenge.

“We are looking at the next big tournaments, like the Suzuki Cup, na hindi magiging available ang mga international players natin. So ito ‘yung pool of players na puwede natin i-train nang mas matagal. Matagal na rin sila magkakasama. At sila talaga ang available,” he said.

In the women’s side, Vietnam and Thailand reminded our women’s team that earning a spot in the FIFA Women’s World Cup is not a guarantee for a podium finish in the SEA Games.

The setbacks brought the team back to earth but respect to Coach Alen Stajcic for not making any excuses. Both Vietnam and Thailand are expected to go all out against the Malditas, Filipinas or whatever makes you tick. And we got the scores to remind the team that qualifying to the World Cup is just the start of more work and sacrifices.

Stajcic acknowledged that Thailand was the better team last Wednesday in Cam Pha. The Thais were simply too much for the Filipinas with better passing, better defense and better teamwork. Hopefully, the team can make the necessary adjustments soon.

On the brighter side though, the losses and the hard lessons learned are part of the preparations for the World Cup better know them now and adjust as soon as possible rather than absorb the beatdown when the biggest football tournament happens in Australia and New Zealand in July to August next year.

The Filipinas can apply the takeaways they will learn from Hanoi in their next tournaments in the coming months.

But for now, the possibility of a podium finish remains within reach tomorrow.

But please, no more games against Tonga and Fiji for the meantime. It will help the team more if they will face bigger, faster and better teams in the build up for the World Cup next year.

Which brings us to the domestic league. Kaya FC Iloilo and United City FC will dispute the 2022 Copa Paulino Alcantara crown after nosing out their respected and worthy opponents in the semifinals.

Kaya, the defending champs, leaned on the heroics of Daizo Horikoshi in the 85th minute to beat a game Stallion FC Laguna, 1-0.

United City, on the other hand, bagged the other ticket to the finals courtesy of Simen Lyngbo’s goal in the 60th minute against Dynamic Herb Cebu FC in the other semis match.

For sure, the finals will be a match to watch out for.

Philippines Football League Commissioner Coco Torre says the finals promises a very exciting affair.

“The match between Kaya FC and UCFC is a highly anticipated one and we expect a high quality match with plenty of drama and hopefully a lot of goals that fans will enjoy. Both squads proved to be the top 2 clubs in the country at the moment, and on Sunday, May 22, we will know who reign supreme,” he said.

Kaya, the defending champs, leaned on the heroics of Daizo Horikoshi in the 85th minute to beat a game Stallion FC Laguna, 1-0.

United City, on the other hand, bagged the other ticket to the finals courtesy of Simen Lyngbo’s goal in the 60th minute against Dynamic Herb Cebu FC in the other semis match.

The two sides are currently the dominant teams in the league and a rivalry is fast shaping between the two sides.

“This year, we saw how tight the contest was among the Clubs. The games were quite unpredictable as the quality of football has really improved. But at the end of the day, there can only be one champion,” he explained.

Regardless of the result of the finals, Torre says efforts to bring back the domestic league are paying off.

“I am happy because football is finally back. The players and officials are healthy and we hope it continues and improves. Currently, the league is in a rehabilitation phase as everyone is recovering from the pandemic. Although the games can be easily watched by fans through our Facebook and Youtube livestreams, certainly we can not wait to play matches in stadiums which are nearer to the fans. This is something the clubs are preparing to do after things stabilize,” Torre added.

There are so many things to watch out for this coming June. The Azkals will fly out to Mongolia and go back home with a spot in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Incidentally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, China begged off in hosting the continent’s biggest football event next year.

In a statement, the AFC said it acknowledges “the exceptional circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the relinquishment by China PR of its hosting rights.”

The U-19 Boys National Championship is also underway. This where the future U-23 team can scout promising talents coming from football teams all over the country.

And of course, everyone or at least most of us are keen on what the next administration will do. With the country facing so many challenges, I wonder what will be the priority concerns that it will address in its first 100 days in the office?

The election is over— time to show what you got, sir.

Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!

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