SEA Games: Jr Azkals test mettle vs champions Vietnam

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at May 08 2022 06:00 AM

SO who’s afraid of defending Southeast Asian Games men’s football champion Vietnam?

Certainly not the Philippines under-23 squad, which faces the ultimate test, as the Junior Azkals tackle the hosts Sunday for Group A leadership in front of an anticipated hostile hometown crowd at the 18,000-seat Viet Tri Stadium in Phu Tho province, 82 kilometers northwest of Hanoi. 

Fresh from a morale-boosting 4-0 rout of Timor Leste last Friday, the Filipino footballers were gearing up for an early showdown with the hosts, who whipped Indonesia 3-0 in the other group match.

Although acknowledging the challenges they would face, Christian Rontini and Dennis Chung, who were among the goal scorers in Friday’s triumph, both said they were undaunted by the reputation of the opposition. 

“Vietnam is the host. And it will have the ‘12th man’ (the hometown fans), but we are not scared. This I can tell you, we will face Vietnam with our heads up,” Rontini said in an online press conference Saturday afternoon.

“These are the matches that you really want to play. Big crowd, big team, big competition. These are the things that will make you a better player. It will be a very good game and we will be ready, I am sure of that.”

Chung shared Rontini’s sentiments, saying: “We respect Vietnam for sure, but we are not scared (of them). We have the momentum going on with our win last Friday. We have a Good positive environment where we are right now.” 

National coach Norman Fegidero acknowledged that Vietnam would be a tough opponent, “because I consider the best team in the tournament right now, and I expect they will have 30,000 fans behind them in the stadium (Sunday).

“But sometimes it is good to play against this type of crowd. We have nothing to lose” 

What he was more worried about was the brief one-day respite his charges had to recover entering the pivotal match against Vietnam.

“While it is good motivation coming from a win, you also have to consider the toll because we only have one day of rest before our next match. That is our concern right. It is not easy to prepare a team lacking rest,” he said.

Keeping his cards close to his chest, Fegidero said that his other concern was “injuries,” without naming the players who were hurting, and the extent of their respective injuries.

As for the armchair pundits back home who continue to second-guess the squad, Fegidero cheekily replied: “We like to thank them for their support.

“As I have earlier said, we would like to take it one game at a time, although our objective is still to win all our matches. We believe in the players of our team.”

Despite the challenges, the Filipino mentor was likewise unfazed by the defending champions.

“We will have a different approach against Vietnam. We will make adjustments. We have the capacity to upset Vietnam in (Sunday’s) game,” Fegidero said.

Rontini, in fact, was gung-ho in facing the Vietnamese.

“Our performance will speak for us. We will go inside the pitch to give our 110 percent. We can do better; I know it for sure. (Sunday) is a big challenge, but it is not a match we have to fear. We have to enjoy and embrace it and try our best,” he said. “These are the games that everybody wants to play.”