Azkals kick off Philippines’ bid in the 26th SEA Games

By Gerry N. Ramos

The initial batch of athletes comprising the Philippine delegation to the 26th Southeast Asian Games arrived in Indonesia yesterday, ready to do battle for the next three weeks when the provinces of Palembang and West Java and the capital city of Jakarta host the biggest sporting conclave in the region.

The celebrated under-23 Azkals team led the early contingent of Filipinos to be welcomed at the sprawling Jakabaring Athletes Village, located just in front of the Jakabaring Sports Complex, site of aquatics competitions and the centerpiece event of track and field.

The under-23 team of German coach Michael Weiss and bannered by mid-fielder Jason de Jong and Fil-Am Matthew Hartmann, were accompanied by co-deputy Chef De Mission Romeo Magat and three members of the Philippine secretariat.

Weiss and the Azkals will have less than 48 hours to settle down as football competition formally kicks off tomorrow at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta.

Bracketed in Group B, the under-23 men’s team plunges into action in the opener Thursday when it tackles regional power Vietnam in the first of a doubleheader action that will have Laos taking on Myanmar in the other game.

It was the Azkals’ stunning 2-0 win over Vietnam during the 2010 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup which propelled the team to celebrity status it is enjoying right now.

The Azkals take on a four-day break, before returning to the field on Nov. 7 to play Timor Leste, followed by the Nov. 11 meeting with Laos, Nov. 13 against Myanmar, and Nov. 15 opposite Brunei.

Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano Araneta said the men’s team is in the SEA Games not to ‘participate, but to win.’

The Philippines has yet to win a medal in football since joining the biennial meet in 1977.

The arrival of the Philippine contingent to Indonesia is expected to snowball within the following days especially after the grand send-off to be given to members of the delegation by both the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) on Friday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.

On Saturday, several more members of the secretariat led by co-deputy Chef De Mission Julian Camacho begin to depart for the SEA Games.

But the bulk of the Philippine delegation will be leaving one after the other starting on Nov. 8, 9, and 10, in time for the colorful opening ceremony on Nov.12. Published in Journal Online