Aguilas venture into tackle football, vie in Asian elims

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 17 2014 09:11 AM | Updated as of Feb 17 2014 05:11 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The country’s national tackle football team Pilipinas Aguilas get set to take their first flight overseas as they vie in the inaugural International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Asia Continental Championship in April.

But the Aguilas will have their hands full in the tilt – a qualifying event for the 2015 IFAF World Championship – as the debuting Pinoys are pitted against powerhouse Japan, the world champion in 1999 and 2003.

“We’re very excited to field a team for the first time in the world championship qualifiers,” American Tackle Football Association of the Philippines (ATFAP) founding member and ArenaBall Philippines (ABP) president Dodi Palma said during Saturday night’s presscon at Marikina Sports Park.

The Japanese enjoy a big advantage in terms of experience, having been playing American football for 80 years. The Filipinos started organized matches just four years ago.

Aguilas officials, however, are banking on the “essential all-heart, never-back-down attitude and unwavering Pinoy pride that not even a century-old football system can easily knock over.”

“There’s no doubt this is a David versus Goliath (matchup) but we’ll be there to show that if you’re gonna pick a fight with any nation in the world, you don’t fight with a Filipino,” Aguilas chairman Apollo Angco said. “We’re very resilient in every form, we fight on a daily basis,whether it’s for food, etc.”

“There’s a saying in American football: ‘Any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team in the football field.’ What that instills is the fact that as long as you come together as a team and you’re willing to work and play together, then any given time, one team has a chance of beating the other,” said offensive coordinator Will Yeh.

For his part, Palma said: “On the level of competition, we’re pretty much in the mid-college stage (compared to the US), I’ll be honest. But that’s not an issue, the issue is we have the heart to do it, we have the strength to do it, we have the coaches to do it. I believe we pretty much have a good chance against the Japanese team.”

The national team program was initiated last year, with mainstays coming from standouts of the ArenaBall Philippines Championship. A total of 45 players and 12 coaches will be tapped for the historic match against Japan.

The team has received game tapes of Japan’s matches that the coaching staff is thoroughly studying.

“What we plan to do is really exploit on our strength and exploit on their weaknesses. Pinoys as athletes have amazing strengths – they are fast, they are athletic, they are cerebral,” said Angco.

Palma said the Aguilas’ international campaign is expected to go full blast next year with an Asian ranking tourney against Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Pakistan and Thailand slated after the world tilt.