The Azkals celebrate after defeating Malaysia 1-0. Despite the win, they fail to advance to the semifinals. Photograph by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
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Despite SEAG disappointment, Azkals head coach says, ‘This game gave us hope’

This may have been one of the strongest lineups the Philippines has ever had in the regional competition, but our booters failed to break a three decade curse. Despite his wards being reduced to tears, their head coach says that this is way forward for the team.
Nissi Icasiano | Dec 07 2019

For the 14th-straight time in the Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines failed to qualify for the semi-finals in football. It is a huge letdown for our Azkals as the last time that they made it to the knockout stage was when the country hosted the SEAG in 1991.

The Filipino booters were among the rousing stories in that edition of the multi-sport event. Then, Bacolod-native Norman Fegidero steered the national squad to the Final Four with a 1-0 victory over Malaysia. That particular win earned the Philippines its first and only entry in the win-or-go-home semis.

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While Stephan Schrock was able to replicate Fegidero’s feat by leading the Philippine Azkals to a 1-nil upset win against Malaysia this year, a tiebreaker method in football hindered them from entering the tourney’s medal stage. In their last game of Group A’s single-round elimination, the Azkals delivered their most decisive victory in the competition after a 6-1 drubbing of Timor-Leste in front of a raucous crowd at the Biñan Football Stadium in Laguna on December 4.

Stephan Schrock of the Philippines controls the ball during their SEA Games men’s football match against Malaysia at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Schrock picked up where he left off from their conquest of Malaysia, scoring within the first four minutes of action. Meanwhile, Amani Aguinaldo also had himself quite the night of the offensive end as he recorded a hat trick, starting with a goal at the 43rd minute to make it a 2-0 advantage heading into halftime. He recorded two more goals at the 86th and 90th minutes. Mar Diano and Dylan De Bruycker joined the goal party as well, scoring at the 54th and the 78th marks respectively.

Despite the favorable result, the Philippines still ended empty-handed as the nation finished the group tied with Cambodia with seven points. The Azkals gave up a goal in the dying moments of the match, courtesy of a free kick from Nathaniel Reis.

 

Sweat and tears

After Cambodia accomplished a 3-1 triumph at the expense of Malaysia at the iconic Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, the Ankor Warriors pulled through with a goal difference of +6 to the Azkals' +5. The Azkals were reduced to tears at the final whistle, knowing that their enthralling 90-minute performance on the field was not enough to notch their first semi-final appearance in 28 years.

Head coach Goran Milojevic did not deny that it was a bitter pill to swallow for the entire team. “Honestly, I thought we deserved to advance. But that’s the sport. We can get unlucky. We had everything arranged to score more and more goals,” he says.

The Azkals mentor also commended Aguinaldo for his gallant effort to tally all the goals he could to keep the Philippines in contention for a semi-final seat. “Aguinaldo is already playing like a striker after some tactical changes, and that was excellent. Players deserve that one goal, not to concede one goal. But football is like that,” Milojevic says.

Azkals mentor Goran Milojevic commended Amani Aguinaldo for his gallant effort to tally all the goals he could to keep the Philippines in contention. Photograph by Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

The Azkals may have come up short in the SEA Games once again, but Milojevic chooses to see things positively. “We can rise with Filipino football in the next year or in two years. This game gave us hope. It is a hope that we can get so much better in the game because Filipinos love football,” he explains.

Finishing the elimination phase at third place with a 2-1-1 record, Milojevic went on record to say that his players have nothing to be ashamed of, believing that this SEAG lineup will go down in history as one of the best to ever represent the Philippines on the pitch.

“They gave all their best in this competition, but the sport is like that. Sometimes, you deserve to go up, but you’re unlucky, but I am confident that we’ll be much better next,” he declares. “I told them they’ve already done what they can do and they’re heroes for me. We deserve to be in the semi-finals. We just have small things to fix for the big future, and next time, I’m sure we’ll be luckier.”