MANILA, Philippines - Amid sports officials’ inclination to prioritize individual bets over team sports in the coming Southeast Asian Games, the Philippine Football Federation will bat for the participation of its under-23, women’s and futsal teams in the Myanmar meet.
PFF general-secretary Ed Gastanes said the Azkals U-23, the Malditas and the futsal squads are all vigorously preparing for the tourney and insisted they deserve to compete in the SEAG.
“Our under-23 is fairly strong, it is stronger than the team two years ago. We have at least seven Azkals national team players and we have good additions. We even formed the nucleus of the team earlier than usual, six months before competition which gives them enough time to prepare,” Gastanes told The STAR.
Handled by a dedicated coaching staff led by coach Brian Reid, the U23 squad had played the Singapore U-23 in Singapore last week to jumpstart their SEAG buildup, dropping a 0-1 decision.
“They lost by the smallest of margin to a team whose core played for Suzuki Cup champion Singapore and the Lions XII club, the No. 1 team in the M-League (Malaysian League). And the Azkals players were not even there yet,” Gastanes stressed, adding that local and foreign camps are in the pipeline for the U-23, including a return match against Singapore U-23 at home.
The Malditas, for their part, have been making steady progress in women’s play. After a solid performance in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers in Bangladesh last month, the Malditas accounted for the biggest move in rankings in the International Football Federation monthly rankings for June. The Filipinas have shot up to 76th.
“The women’s team made a good showing in the Asian Cup qualifiers, losing only to Thailand in a very close game, 0-1, and beating Iran, a strong women’s team, 6-0. They are ranked 76th in the world now and 34th in Asia,” Gastanes said.
The futsal teams, he said, are currently conducting tryouts.
Football teams’ participation in the SEAG are up in the air as the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission lean towards sending a “lean team” to Myanmar, with bulky teams not given much priority. National Sports Associations must convince the two bodies that their teams are good for gold or silver at least to make the grade.
Malditas coach Ernie Nierras, meanwhile, said they are looking for other ways to stay competitive and continue their progress in case they would miss out on the SEAG.
“If PSC pushes through with this, it will be our third time missing the SEAG. Regardless the Malditas have progressed. As much as we would like to represent the country, we cannot force the issue. What we can do is create a tournament that will coincide with the SEAG. Invite teams that will help improve our ranking and improve our competitiveness,” Nierras said.
He added that they are “already in the planning stages for an international tournament in December. “We will be inviting Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Guam. All non-SEAG teams. We plan to make this an annual event. This will give us 2 major tournaments every year.”
The Malditas are eyeing friendlies against Haiti in August before plunging into action in the Asean Football Federation Women’s Championship in Mandalay, Myanmar from Sept. 9-22. The Pinays are bunched in Group B with Japan’s U23 team, host Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia.