Fabius Chen with Phil Younghusband (R)
Courtesy of Rick Olivares
Singapore sportswriter pays tribute to 2010 Azkals, Younghusbands
Rick Olivares (Philstar.com) - July 3, 2020 - 1:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — The 2010 Suzuki Cup was sportswriter Fabius Chen’s first time to cover that beat.  

Then writing for the Singapore Straits Times, Chen was witness to the Philippines’ breakout tournament, where the latter nicked off its first point against the writer’s home country, and taking all three points from then defending champion Vietnam.

The Philippines advanced to the semifinals for the first time that tournament and have gone on to book three more semis slots in the biennial regional football tournament.

“On paper, it would have been easy to say that a Philippine team that hadn’t even qualified for the previous edition had no right to be in the same conversation as defending champions Vietnam and three-time winners, Singapore,’ reflected Chen 10 years after the events that unfolded in Hanoi and Nam Dinh in Vietnam as well as in Jakarta, Indonesia for the semis.

“But how could you not sit up and take notice of a team that had brought together players based across the globe for a regional tournament like the AFF Championship? It sent a clear message — even before a ball was kicked — that the Philippines wasn’t there to simply make up the numbers.”

Since that tournament, Chen has been to the Philippines on several more occasions to watch matches by the Azkals, including the 2012 Suzuki Cup. He watched as the team solidified its position as an emerging regional power; one that even the traditional kings of Southeast Asian football really prepare for today. Chen as well owns a few Philippine kits in his collection.

With the recent retirement of James Younghusband from active football competition, Chen, who has interviewed the former and his younger brother Phil, who retired a good seven months ahead, on numerous occasions including the Singapore Cups, had this to say: “Sport regularly brings fame to individuals. It rarely works the other way around. But that is precisely what the Younghusband brothers did for Philippine football. And not just for the Philippines either. The Younghusband Effect was on full display every time they set foot on a Singapore pitch. It was always an occasion no matter what night of the week it was.”

Chen added a personal anecdote, “I once met a fan in Manila who went from hating the sport to spending her Thursday night watching the Azkals in training. The reason for her conversion — a certain striker named ‘Phil.’”

“The idea that the next Philippine team I will watch in action will not have a Younghusband in its ranks is a strange one given their being synonymous with the Azkals for the best part of 15 years,” summed up Chen. “James and Phil have been wonderful ambassadors for both sport and country and I have no doubt they will continue to be so even in retirement.”

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