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Azkals: Heroes All

Sunday, July 3, was a historic first for our country: our men’s national football team, “Azkals”, clobbered Sri Lanka 4-0 in the second leg of the first round of qualifiers for the World Cup 2014. Thus, with an aggregate score of 5-1 against Sri Lanka, our Azkals have moved up to the second round, which will be against Kuwait later this month.

We salute our players, and for this allow me to borrow from my father’s poem honoring Philippine athletes before, which certainly holds true as well for our Azkals’ great victory mutatis mutandis, thus:

We Salute You!

You lifted us from apathy and sorrow;

            Broke the bonds of indifference and despair!

You gifted us with hope for a new tomorrow!

            If we be true! And give our all! And dare!

You bested the gauntlets of stamina and speed

            Of brains and brawn, of nerves of steel, and skill.

Consumed by but one passion – to succeed!

            Give more than all! With indomitable will!

I would not mention names for you are legion

            Each one doing his utmost as part of a team.

You met the best of the Southeast Asian region

            Winning more than what we dared to dream!

O Philippine Athletes! Heroes! Thru thick and thin!

            We salute you! You gave us back the Will to Win!

For sure, our Azkals will need to exert greater efforts for preparation against Kuwait for their matches on July 23 in Kuwait and July 28 in Manila. Kuwait is currently ranked by FIFA at 102nd place while the Philippines is only at 159th rank. Kuwait has actually ranked 85th last year. Indeed, over the past year, Kuwait has averaged 98.583 in ranking compared to the Philippines’ 156.333. Way back in 1982, Kuwait made it to the World Cup Finals.

In a friendly match against Lebanon, Kuwait won 6-0. This certainly shows Kuwait’s scoring power and tight defense. For that matter, Lebanon is ranked 177th now, but it was earlier ranked 85th in 1998 and its average ranking is 119.

Nevertheless, our Azkals’ performance last Sunday against Sri Lanka showed some cohesion already. They were able to have ball possession for the most part of the game and were able to move the ball around through quick short passes. Football is and will always be an 11-man game, so it’s most imperative that ball movement is ensured to secure goals.

Needless to state, the Azkals must strengthen their defense. The goal scored against them by the Sri Lankans in the first leg in Sri Lanka showed how vulnerable to power kicks our team is. There were a number of lapses, too. Hence, with Kuwait’s scoring power, the Azkals can’t be caught napping or making mistakes that can be costly. But, of course, it’s heart and mind with tempers in check that can ensure the best defense as well as offense. Again, football requires playing smart to win.

Go Azkals! We believe!